The situation seemed like one to tar it. Still, leaders of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 rose to the challenge Monday, April 20 as they offered explanations on the rowdy setting and breach of medical protocol witnessed at the burial of the departed Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari.
Mallam Abba Kyari died on Friday, April 17. He was buried the next day in accord with Islamic rites. Participants at the funeral, however, breached several protocols on handling of issues in the coronavirus pandemic.
The PTF Covid-19 team led with sincerity and humility in its response. It acknowledged the errors, apologised and defined a new path away from the infraction.
Chairman of the task force, Boss Mustapha admitted that: “The PTF recognizes, regrettably, the unintentional violation of the principles and protocols that form the core of our messaging to Nigerians at the funeral of the late Chief of Staff. These principles, for emphasis, include the guidance provided on mass gatherings, social distancing, personal hygiene, and restriction of movements.”
Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, said further: “Lessons have been learnt and appropriate measures have been taken to close all gaps. We assure all Nigerians of their safety and the determination of the PTF to combat the pandemic.”
Leaders emerge or affirm their credentials in the crucible of fire. They do so with accountability, responsiveness and the ability to take responsibility. Members of the task force showed their mettle at the national press briefing on Covid-19 this Monday, confirming their pledge to serve citizens with forthrightness during this dreadful pandemic.
The Chairman of the PTF Covid-19 in oral remarks further apologised to the nation over the lapses. The team took responsibility. More significant is the pledge to abide with the protocol in the days ahead.
Indeed, the National Coordinator of the PTF on Covid-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu was poignant in pledging to ensure that future events are adequately regulated in line with agreed protocols. His apology was profound on live national television and won the admiration of Nigerians.
“The PTF would like to acknowledge and apologise for the mistakes that were made regarding the burial of the late chief of staff. We realised that crowd control failed; we have learnt from this and we will ensure future events are adequately regulated and followed the requisite protocols,” he promised.
To assuage social media warriors, he disclosed that the Gudu cemetery, Abuja, where Kyari was buried, has since been decontaminated while the personal protective gear discarded at the site was promptly decontaminated, burnt and discarded according to the guidelines of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
But more significant is the assurance offered to douse the anxiety on the possible dangers posed by bodies of those killed by coronavirus. “I will like to further clarify the issue of Covid-19 and their viral processes. Contrary to what is on the social media, the late chief of staff’s body was properly prepared for burial according to NCDC guidelines and the Islamic faith,” said Dr. Aliu
He explained that bodies of persons with Covid-19, has stated clearly by the World Health Organisation guidelines, do not constitute any danger to those who may have contact with it, as seen at the burial of late Kyari.
Quoting the guidelines, he said “except in cases of viral haemorrhagic fevers and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious.”
The World Health Organisation says that except in cases of haemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, Marburg and cholera, corpses are generally not infectious. The organisation, in its interim guidance on ‘Infection prevention and control for safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19’, said that only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, could be infectious.
“Otherwise, cadavers do not transmit disease. It is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true. Cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources,” it said.
WHO added that to date, there is no evidence of persons having become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who died from Covid-19.
Dr. Aliu, who had previously served as the director general at the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, gave further assurance that the task force “will continue to follow the guidelines and protocols that we have produced” as the NCDC guidelines are very much reflective of the WHO guidelines.
“We will also like to assure the general public that the taskforce takes its presidential mandate seriously and is committed in executing it to the best of its ability. We ask for the public to continue to hold us accountable for our actions, we read your comments in the social media, we listen to you and we acknowledge the issues that might arise,” said Dr. Aliyu to Nigerians.
*Kareem is a public policy analyst in Abuja.