Our attention has been drawn to comments credited to the Rivers State Chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) on the rising number of COVID cases in the state. 

While we do not wish to join issues with her at this stage of the pandemic, it is important we state categorically that the data she put forward is baseless and the assumptions in her press statement are untrue and misconstrued for personal reasons.  
1. It is incorrect to say that eighty two (82) Health Care workers are infected with COVID in the State. This data is false and is not a reflection of the PCR laboratory data or the numbers on the National data repository of the NCDC. 

One therefore wonders what gain comes from the deliberate distortion of figures in this attempt to grandstand. The State is ready to partner with the NMA for better health outcomes but the NMA should be seen as a courageous partner and not a panic creating machine in this pandemic.

2. It is also untrue that Health Care workers are all infected because they lack Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Apart from the common observation that no category of professionals are spared from COVID, the State Government has provided sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all designated State treatment centres at all levels of care in our public facilities. In addition to that,  the State Government has donated large quantities of complete PPE sets to the Association of General and  Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN), Tertiary Health care institutions in the State and other high volume facilities. This exercise is still on going. 

It is quite important to note that only one out of the six standard pillars in Infection Prevention and Control (IPC), concerns the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as a safety measure and is usually employed as a last resort when all other measures for hazard control become inadequate. Moreso, proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is equally important in ranking as its availability. These facts ought to be examined holistically before making sweeping and dangerous statements that can misguide the general public. In fact, in the course of this pandemic, we have seen retired health care workers who are no longer in any form of practice that are diagnosed with COVID despite not seeing patients being listed in the Chairman's misleading comments.

3. The Nigeria Medical Association Chairman (NMA) ought to know that the rising number is not only a reflection of a National trend but a true demonstration of the increased testing capacity in the State with four active PCR machines running at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH) dedicated to COVID diagnosis. It is common knowledge that states that test more find more. A containment case finding strategy supported by World Health Organisation (WHO). 

We can't play the ostritch and refuse to test our people in order to please the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) Chairman. Government has shown consistent commitment to slowing down the progression of the pandemic despite the security compromise at our boundaries that led to the importation of more cases of the virus. No amount of blackmail and fallacy can change these facts which have been clearly demonstrated in the past three months.

The public is advised to discountenance the press statement which is untrue, based on faulty assumptions and crafted to cause panic. We believe this is a time to show solidarity and unity against this virus. Propaganda, politicising health issues and creating unfounded fear in the society can hurt our control effort and create danger for our citizens. 

As it has done from the beginning of the pandemic, the State Government will continue to provide resources to ensure all Health Workers at our facilities are equiped with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Patient engagement while continuing to support other aspects of treatment, risk communication, community engagement and clinical research in order to halt the pandemic. 

We can win this war if we work together.

Prof Princewill Chike,
Honorable Commissioner for Health, Rivers State

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