Recent reports of hundreds more deaths than usual across communities in Nigeria’s Kano State have raised fears that a major Covid-19 outbreak is underway. Official data from Kano State Ministry of Health reports 219 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 5 deaths as of April 30, but residents fear that the outbreak may have caused far more devastation. Authorities should act quickly to ensure accurate public health information is available and accessible to all.
Like most parts of Nigeria healthcare infrastructure in Kano is poor and if not quickly contained, an outbreak among the estimated population of 13.4 million may result in significant deaths.
State authorities have acknowledged the unusually high number of deaths, and while they initially denied they were related to coronavirus they are now conducting “verbal” autopsies.
An independent survey conducted by staff at Kano’s Yusuf Maitama Sule University, which examined the symptoms and demographic profile of patients, strongly suggests Covid-19. Researchers have called on the authorities to conduct postmortems and scale up Covid-19 testing to determine how far the virus has spread.
Access to testing has so far been limited. Amid reports of the rising death toll, Kano’s only testing center was shut down on April 22 for five days due to fears of contamination.
Given the state’s poor health infrastructure, access to timely, accurate, and accessible information is key to curbing transmission of the virus.
A doctor in a Kano state general hospital said public awareness was poor: “There is a lot of misinformation and ignorance about Covid-19 in Kano. Some people do not even believe it is real and this has to change.”
His comments were echoed by the chair of the Nigerian Medical Association in Kano who said that health messaging has mainly been through social media and television – which many people don’t have access to.
Considering Kano’s low literacy rate, the authorities should ensure that public health information is accessible to all and available in relevant languages. They should also act swiftly to identify, isolate, and treat Covid-19 cases as well as trace contacts, in order to curb the virus’ spread.
At this time of crisis, the government should work with trusted community-based groups, religious leaders, and community radio stations to protect citizens by equipping them with the right information.