Fellow Nigerians, it is no longer news that confirmed cases of Covid 19 are now in Nigeria. Recall that the index case was by an Italian national whose case was confirmed on 27th February, 2020 by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC. Though the man has since been treated and discharged, his presence and that of other infected persons that flew into the country have left Nigeria in a rather different challenging scenario. In fact as at this morning, the 31th day of March 2020, the official figure of number of confirmed cases is 135 with two death and few recovered and discharged cases. 

According to Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, (NCDC) the Covid 19 virus is contracted through person to person contact with droplets from infected persons. Currently, we are not aware of any treatment or vaccination. Already, the World Health Organisation has described the infection as a pandemic. A number of measures have been advocated to curb the spread which include but not limited to: 

1. Regular hand washing using soap under running water for not less than 20 seconds in the absence of which at least 65% alcohol based hand sanitizer may be used. The hand washing is very essential after returning from work or other out-of-home engagements.

2. Avoidance of touching the face (mouth, nose, eye and ear) with our hand except when thoroughly washed with soap.

3. Maintenance of social distance of not less than 6 feet especially with suspected infected person.

4. Avoidance of hand shaking.

5. Coughing or sneezing into disposable tissue and discarding appropriately. Use your elbow only when extremely necessary.

6. Observation of at least 14 day self isolation for a person that returned from an infected country or location. It is also recommended that a person should self isolate when an individual experiences the following: coughing, sneezing, running nose, fever, painful or irritating throat, headache and difficulty in breathing. According to NCDC, these symptoms may not be exhaustive but any clear case of feeling unwell should be reported to the appropriate health authority. 

On behalf of the National Executive Council of Nigerian Psychological Association, let me expressly use this opportunity to thank many patriotic Nigerians and organisations that have donated generously in cash or kind to support the government efforts at containing this pandemic. Psychologists in Nigeria appreciate the Nigerian spirit in you and call on the receiving agencies to make the best use of these resources to the overall benefits of Nigerians. The NPA invites psychologists at all levels in Nigeria to specially support the timely collective defeat of this Covid 19. We also call on other relevant health professionals to assist by up scaling service delivery and thereby reducing suffering and distress among our people.

Furthermore, the Nigerian Psychological Association notes with appreciation the various efforts of the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Health, the NCDC, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the various task forces set up to respond to the pandemic. We appreciate the closure of Nigerian boarders including the various airports, the fumigation of locations suspected to be critical to the control of the pandemic, the intensified contact-tracing especially in confirmed cases and most recently, the lockdown. NPA also appreciates the Lagos State Government and her agencies as well as the various efforts of other State Governments in response to this pandemic.

While these measures are important, NPA regrets the non inclusion of psychologists in the Covid 19 national response team, task forces and other levels of engagement to enhance better outcome.

It is important to emphasize the fact that Nigeria requires two major approaches if she must defeat this pandemic that is ravaging the entire globe. These are attitudinal change (to prevent fresh infections) and management of identified cases both of which require major input from psychologists.

To start with these examples, handshaking and social intimacy are integral aspects of our social realities and introducing changes in these areas of behaviour require major evidence based contributions from psychologists if the target goal of defeat of the pandemic must be met in shortest possible time. It is important to note that gut approach does not work especially in behavioural patterns that have been consolidated as the examples above. Given the number and expertise of psychologists in the country, Nigeria cannot afford to ignore such a resource to save the people, the economy and other capital within the shortest possible time. 

Apart from helping to design and implement evidence based intervention methods that work, psychologists can help to reduce the high level of anxiety, worry, and uncertainty and panic behavioural patterns in the population. Already, many reports of chloroquine poisoning, cases of non compliance with government and experts’ directives, the disbelief by some persons in the reality of the disease and similar undesirable conducts that resist the control efforts have been reported.

Apart from controlling further spread, psychological support is extremely needed by persons in isolation, in treatment and by their relations. Also persons that develop fear, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, suicidal thoughts, substance use disorders or other stress reactions as a result of the control measures including the lockdown need support. More importantly, let it be noted that anxiety, heightened stress level, substance use disorders and other concerns can increase among health personnel especially during emergencies as many of whom may be overstretched. Psychological support to these professionals can enhance their efficiency, reduce avoidable mistakes, and eliminate physical and mental breakdown.

In the light of the foregoing, the Nigerian Psychological Association calls on the Federal and State Governments, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, the Covid 19 response teams and task forces at all levels to integrate psychologists within their ranks to enhance the ongoing efforts to contain this pandemic. Indeed, it is high time psychological services were included as part and parcel of our national emergency response as a matter of course as there is no health without mental health all over the globe. Nigeria is our only country and we cannot watch it collapse in this pandemic. All hands must be on deck to shorten the period of suffering, save our people and economy.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Professor Michael Ezenwa, Ph.D. 

National President, Nigerian Psychological Association.

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