“Have you bought the thermometer? Good, good. Please tell your brother to measure his temperature, too, and let me know.”
That was a call from Jude (not his real name). Jude works for NCDC, the Nigeria Centre for Disease and Control. He tracked my relative to her home in Lagos after she returned from an overseas trip. Every morning he calls to find out about her state of health and who she has been exposed to. He carefully runs through a list of questions—are you feverish?, any difficulties breathing?, flulike symptoms?—in order to determine if her case merits an escalation. So far it hasn’t. Next week Tuesday, 14 days after her arrival and self-isolation, she will be going to a testing centre to take a COVID-19 swab. If her test comes comes back negative she will go home and we will never hear from Jude again. We hope this is what happens.
Another person, this time showing all the symptoms, contacted NCDC through their toll-free number. After two conversations over the phone NCDC staff, kitted in full-body protective gear like in the movies, arrived at her house to test her. After one inconclusive swab and a later one which was fine the tests came back negative. NCDC staff have kept in touch ever since, speaking with her daily to check on her progress.
You may disagree with the approach being taken. There are legitimate arguments to be made about whether or not this is the right strategy, whether this is too little too late, and so on. But you will not, I hope, fail to appreciate the job NCDC is doing at a crucial time under difficult circumstances. At a time of great anxiety, it is a good thing to recognise some of the people in the country working to try to beat back this pandemic. Working, I should add, without the resources available to their colleagues in other countries. But they carry on. We Nigerians have a long habit of dunking on our leaders, our governments and our civil servants. Such vitriol is usually well-deserved. But occasionally there is a unit like NCDC which breaks through the cynicism and negativity and shines a light of hope on all of us.
I want to applaud and encourage Jude and the team at NCDC. Every call they make to one of us is a message to all of us, a reassurance that we will get through this.