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By James Edet

The advent of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 as a global pandemic has no doubt brought about growing concerns and uncertainties to the global community. That the virus has no respect for national barrier, race, sex and political or religious affinity has intensified global anxiety over public health outcome as well as global and national economies, both at the macro and micro fundamentals.

The intensity of COVID-19 becomes more complex and frightening for African nations and other third world countries where malfunctioning economies, poor infrastructure, weak healthcare system and endemic poverty are the open sores which escalate the morbidity of the pandemic. Paradoxically, even the developed and great nations of the world like the USA, Great Britain, Germany, Russia and China have not escaped the fangs and pangs of this panting pandemic.

Given the crises and gloomy scenario that this bellicose contagion has bestrode our world today, there is urgent need for proactive leaders with the capacity to think outside the box, leaders with motivating impulse and foresight to change the negative narrative in governance, leaders who can effectively activate the turnkeys of development and rally the human and material capitals of their states to frontally confront the pandemic to cessation.

Fortunately for Akwa Ibom, one of Nigeria’s fastest growing State, the above prognosis of proactive and efficient leadership befits its current Governor, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, who from all indications was divinely ordained for a time like this, given his deep vision and robust organizational dexterity in the management of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and in the overall governance and wellbeing of his people, anchored on industrialization, job creation, poverty alleviation and the attendant fiscal growth and economic emancipation.

General Charles de Gaulle, a onetime French President, was one of the outstanding leaders and army commanders of the modern era. From his experience in the battlefield after leading the French resurgence against Nazi Germany during World War II, the iconic General conjectured that: “Faced with crises, the man of character falls back to himself. He imposes his own stamp of action and takes responsibility for its success’’.

That the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious global crisis today is not in question. In fact, for some leaders in the likes of Governor Udom Emmanuel, combating the novel coronavirus is literally a warfare that must be fought with all seriousness and with the deployment of the best of combatants and armaments. For Governor Emmanuel in particular, the war against COVID-19, is a war that must not only be fought; it is a war that must be fought and won outrightly and uprightly!

From all indications, the Governor is winning the COVID-19 battle in Akwa Ibom State. Just like a general and tactical war commander in the mould of General Charles de Gaulle in a conventional combat situation, Governor Udom Emmanuel has, since 1st April 2020, when the virus announced its first incursion into the Akwa Ibom territory, led the COVID-19 battle from the frontline, spending sleepless nights on tactical planning, as well as committing enormous time, energy and material resources to execute the warfare. As if he knew the world will one day be on its knees, running from pillar to post in search of medical palliatives to mitigate the effect of COVID-19, Governor Emmanuel had since his assumption of office in 2015 positioned the healthcare sector as paramount in his agenda for the state, investing huge resources in this direction.

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Today, the gains of these investments are very visible, highlighting our medical landscape in great abundance and opulence. The cutting-edge facilities at the Ibom Specialist Hospital, Uyo, the Infectious Disease Hospital in Ikot Ekpene and the 300 bed ultra-modern Isolation and Disease Control Centre in Ituk Mbang, built to completion, fully and tastefully furnished in a record thirty days, as well as the many other modern hospitals constructed and remodeled, with some of the best facilities in the country, are eloquent testimonies of Governor Emmanuel’s commitment to not only eliminating the novel coronavirus from the state, but also raising the bar to satisfy the overall healthcare yearnings of his people.

Every battle commander needs a battalion of soldiers, a tactical command to successfully execute his war strategies. For Governor Udom Emmanuel, being the general commander in the frontline of the fight against this raging pandemic, the state COVID-19 Incident Management Committee provides the engine room and the tactical command to propel the epic medical combat against the novel coronavirus.
The conformation and routines of this committee, which he set up on Sunday March 29, 2020 as a rapid response team, again bring to light the governor’s deep understanding of corporate governance stratagems and managerial competence, as the team is made up of some of the best medical experts and other professionals in the land, who are primed to interpret the governor’s blue print and juxtapose same with their expertise to exterminate COVID-19 in the state. Since its inauguration, the state COVID-19 Incident Management Committee (IMC) has worked round the clock to achieve its overall objective of ensuring effective preparedness and response to any case of COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom State as well as containing the outbreak and spread of the virus.

As a critical interventionist think-tank and rapid response team, the IMC by Governor Emmanuel’s modus operandi, is structured into pillars whose interfacing functions are overseen by the Incident Manager and the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, while he, Governor Udom Emmanuel, is at its echelon as the Taskforce Chairman, providing dynamic leadership and the resources for the successful execution of the COVID-19 warfare.

Among the pillars of IMC are the Epidemiology and Surveillance Pillar, which oversees the early detection and reporting of infections as well as outbreak characterization and data analysis for response and decision making; the Laboratory Pillar for early laboratory confirmation of suspected cases as well as facilitating sample transportation to the laboratory; the Point of Entry (POE), which screens all passengers at arrival points – land routes, airport and seaports, into the state for early detection of high-risk persons for follow-up, isolation of symptomatic passengers and transfer of same to the designated isolation centres for testing; the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Pillar which ensures that effective infection prevention and control protocols are in place and implemented to break the chain of transmission at points of entry, health facilities and communities; and the Case Management Pillar which works round the clock for prompt isolation and management of suspected/confirmed cases with improved outcomes. There is also the Risk Communication Pillar, which sees to the sensitization of communities on preventive and protective measures, as well as conducting rumour monitoring and countering of misinformation.

As an integrated system, the IMC has the Logistics lead, which ensures there is adequate forecasting, quantification, prepositioning and tracking of drugs, lab reagent and health care products. The Coordination Pillar oversees the mobilization and coordination of resources, partnerships and strategies for effective and efficient management of outbreaks while the Finance and Administration Pillar fashions budgetary provisions, tracks allocation of resources and monitors implementation of activities. The Incident Management Committee also has the Safety and Welfare Pillar which ensures the safety, security and welfare of all responders. The Liaison Officer and Public Information Officer on the other hand play the vital role of interconnecting the various publics, internal and external, in its daily activities with the attendant feedback impulses.

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Central to the rapid response role of the Akwa Ibom State COVID-19 Incident Management Committee is its Situation Room/Emergency Call Centre. With 4 call stations, on 24-hour operation, running on three shifts – morning, afternoon and night, the facility remains one of the best in the country in terms of cutting-edge facilities and professionals to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic. Significantly, as at Wednesday, May 20, 2020 the cumulative number of calls so far relayed to the Call Centre since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the state stood at two thousand, seven hundred and eighty five (2,785). All calls to the centre are given premium attention and most of them have prompted follow-ups and necessary actions by the appropriate pillars of the IMC

A cursory analysis of activities of these pillars showcases the highest level of professionalism in the execution of their assigned responsibilities and the overall objective of effective response to outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus in the state. For instance, data at the Point of Entry Pillar indicates that as at Wednesday May 20, 2020, the total number of persons who had been screened for entry into the state since the outbreak of the pandemic stood at 45,476. Details of this number from the 10 identified points of entry into the state stood as follows: (i) Eket-Ibeno -3808; (ii)Azuminri-Iwukem-6591; (iii)Ikot Abasi-Opobo-5256; (iv) Ikot Ekpene-Aba-4464;(v) Itu Head Bridge-7327; (vi)Obot Akara-Umuaihia-3472; (vii) Obot Akara-Aba Road-5571; (viii) Oron Maritime Police Post-4330; (ix) Ikot Abasi-Ogoni Border(Horricon)-4371; (x) Victor Attah Int’l Airport-286. Out of the total number of 45,476, 69 persons were intercepted as persons of interest (POIs).

On Contact Tracing, the cumulative number of contacts so far traced in the state as at Wednesday May 20, 2020 stood at 341. Of this number, 299 have been discharged from tracing while thirty one (31) are still on the radar for follow up. For Case Management, the total number of confirmed cases within the same period, stood at 18, according to the state Epidemiologist, Dr. Ntiense Umoette. Of this number, 13 of the cases had been discharged from isolation following successful management by the state IMC with the facilities at Ibom Specialist Hospital; 3 cases were still under admission but in stable condition; while 2 cases of death have, unfortunately, been recorded. Worthy of note too is the fact that the Infection Prevention and Control Pillar has undertaken massive decontamination of health facilities as well as other public facilities and spaces across the three senatorial districts of the state, including homes and facilities of confirmed cases, since the outbreak of the pandemic in the state, in order to break the chain of transmission.

From all indications, the COVID-19 fight in Akwa Ibom State under the leadership of Governor Udom Emmanuel has been an enviable success story.
The untiring efforts of the Chairman of COVID-19 Committee and Secretary to the State Government, Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem, the Incident Manager, Dr Dominic Ukpong who is also the State Commissioner for Health, his Works counterpart, Akparawa Ephraim Inyangeyen and the Commissioner for Information, Sir Charles Udoh, among other government functionaries, must be commended for their strategic roles as brigade commanders in Governor Udom Emmanuel’s tactical army for the execution of the COVID-19 warfare in the state.

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The entire members of State COVID-19 Incident Management Committee must also be commended for purposefully translating the Governor’s blueprint into reality. The investigative effort of IMC at contact tracing, case isolation and management, and its many other proactive methodologies in managing and stemming the tide of the COVID-19 in the state is widely acclaimed. For instance, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control scored Akwa Ibom State 99.1% in contact tracing, in recognition of the state’s hands-on response in mitigating the pandemic. The commitment of the Committee has also paid off greatly as the State continues to maintain almost 100% feat in case management. Almost all the cases managed by the IMC have recorded full recovery, except for the two mortalities which were referrals managed by private health facilities only brought to the notice of the IMC too late in near-dead conditions.

Worthy of note too is the fact that Akwa Ibom State is perhaps the only state in Nigeria that employs 3D surveillance technology at its borders for point-of-entry reconnaissance. This has paid off handsomely as the IMC has on many occasions intercepted and apprehended several persons who attempted to enter the state illegally, some with suspected corpses for burial.

Considering the caliber and expertise of the professionals at the disposal of the Akwa Ibom State COVID-19 IMC and the state-of-the-art facilities available in healthcare institutions across the state, all at the instance of the state governor, the monumental accomplishments recorded in combating the novel coronavirus in the state is not unexpected. Speaking at one of the daily meetings of the IMC, at the Ibom Specialist Hospital in Uyo, the state capital, the Deputy Incident Manager of the team and Director of Public Health in the State, Dr. Godffrey Akro submitted that Governor Udom Emmanuel is the driving force behind the success story of the IMC. He postulated that, “Akwa Ibom State will be used as a case study nationally and globally in the fight against COVID-19 because of how Governor Udom Emmanuel’s dynamic leadership has made our response against the pandemic one of the most successful in Nigeria”.

Patients who have been successfully managed and discharged of COVID-19 in the state have also paid glowing tributes to Governor Udom Emmanuel. For Dr Otobong Asukwo, “kudos must be given to the state government under Governor Udom Emmanuel. Without the effort of government, successful management of cases would not have been possible in the state”. For another survivor, Pharmacist Ememobong Udo-fa, “thanks must be given to Governor Udom Emmanuel and the Incidence Management Committee for working tirelessly round the clock’’ for the successful management and discharge of COVID-19 patients in the state.

With his people oriented governance style exemplified in the manner he has successfully piloted the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state, Governor Udom Emmanuel has once again proven his capacity and dexterity in leadership, and again reassured Akwa Ibom people that his choice to govern the state was divinely preordained, particularly for a precarious time like this.

James Edet is the Director of Information,
Akwa Ibom State

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