By Rukayat Adeyemi
US Consul General, Claire Pierangelo, on Wednesday launched the COVID-19 messages of Hope intervention project in Nigeria in a bid to stop the spread of the disease.
Pierangelo launched the project in Lagos, in collaboration with Caritas Nigeria and other religious and community leaders.
She said the project presents a typical opportunity to accelerate the pandemic risk control through the influence of faith-based and community leaders.
“The influence of religious and community leaders throughout the country cannot be overstated and we need this to communicate and bring an end to the pandemic in Nigeria, ” she said.
According to her, the project is part of the US government’s support to Nigeria’s COVID-19 response.
She said that the US Centre for Diseases Control (CDC) had started engaging religious leaders throughout the country to disseminate contextualised messages that speak to the people .
Pierangelo said that the messages would focus on the up-take of preventative, protective and behavior change which includes face masks, physical medication and most importantly vaccination .
“We could do all the prescribed medications, but until everyone is medically safe, we are not going to be successful in the fight against the virus.
“So, the messages of hope need to go within your communities and worship places to support the Nigeria’s COVID-19 eradication effort which requires maximum support from everyone, ” she said.
The consul general said the US government recognises the spiritual role of the religious leaders and expects them to encourage people to be hopeful in the midst of the serious global pandemic .
Pierangelo said the spiritual guidance of faith leaders was critically important to solving the pandemic in Nigeria, as it is really difficult for people to self distance, not to gather or celebrate to events and successes of life together .
She said that the US CDC would continue to work with real important partners as the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC), the Catholic Caritas foundation, the Nigerian Interfaith Action Association (NIFAA) and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) to fight the pandemic.
Pierangelo said that following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria on Feb. 27, 2020, the US CDC has had important partnership and a close and productive relationship with Nigeria and its medical team over the past one year .
“In response to the Coronavirus, we conducted logical COVID-19 survey, we trained over 200,000 personnel, we installed technologies for virtual trainings, provided several equipment, among other control efforts, ” she said.
In her opening remarks, Dr Bolu Omotayo, Acting Country Director, CDC said the project is aimed at combining science and faith to fight the COVID-19 pandemic .
Omotayo urged Nigerians not to relax in adherence to the COVID-19 safety protocols as the virus was still very much actively around.
She said that a survey released by the NCDC last week indicated that in Lagos for example, one in five people have had or are having the COVID-19.
According to her, the outcome of the survey indicated that a high number of people, especially people in the younger generation categories, have had the virus but may not have shown symptoms .
“This made it clear that COVID-19 is real and is in our communities,” she said.
Omotayo called on the government to fast track more deliveries of the COVID-19 vaccines in batches following the arrival of the first tranche of the vaccine in the country on Tuesday.
“We expect that the vaccine would be rolled out and starting with the healthcare workers, then people who are over 50 years, and people with underlying ailments.
“It’s a step by step process and those who have registered have started getting text messages .
“The Nigerian government is making effort to ensure that all eligible people receive the vaccine.
“Though it may take a little while for the over 200 million Nigerians to be vaccinated, we all need to be patient for the processes,” she said.
Omotayo urged the faith and community leaders to keep passing the message of preventive health measures to their followers, as the vaccines would take a while to go round.
She said that the success on the eradication of polio, ebola and prevention of HIV, among other diseases was achieved through the collaboration with religious leaders.
“We are excited that you would assist to pass the message to the grassroot and also that we will be able to monitor and evaluate it to generate and document data and numbers for our usage.
“In public health, there is social, economic, religious and all other aspects, and all the indices must work together for us to make a difference at reducing the pandemic in Nigeria ,” she said.
In his goodwill message, Dr Chike Ihekweazu, Director General, NCDC appreciated the US CDC for the project and thanked God for his mercies on Nigeria since the outbreak of the virus .
Ihekweazu, represented by Dr Chinwe Ochu of the Center, said the launch of the message of hope project by the US CDC marks yet another turning point in the fight against the Coronavirus in Nigeria .
He said the effort of the US buttressed the trust and reliability on religious leaders as platforms for engaging the people to drive the behavioural change required to end the pandemic in the country.
The NCDC DG urged the faith leaders to continue to pray for the country to win in its fight to overcome the virus, as it was still recording more cases and deaths.
“We hope you will leverage what the message of hope project has brought to streghten what you are already doing in fighting the pandemic in Nigeria.
“Particularly, as we prepare Nigerians for the COVID-19 vaccination intervention, we need you as trusted voices to help counter the numerous misinformation around this effective intervention.
“We will continue to make credible and evident based intervention on the pandemic available to our religious leaders who are critical stakkeholders in securing the lives of our people,” he said.
Ihekweazu commended the religious leaders on their roles played in the welfare and safe health of the people .
“We appreciate your effort towards the containment of the COVID-19 through your prayers , delivery of key messages , implementation of non-pharmacitical intervention in places of worship and the support provided to the people during the lockdown.
In his address of welcome, Rev. Fr. Uchechukwu Obodoechina, Executive Secretary /Chief Executive Officer, Caritas Nigeria, charged all faith leaders nationwide to become vanguards of the COVID-19 hope messages to curb the spread of the virus.
Obodoechina said he felt overwhelming for the CDC, Atlanta, to seek patnership with faith leaders in a bid to combine faith with science to fight the pandemic.
“It is an amazing experience for me to see how CDC Atlanta could jump from science to seek messages of hope.
“This is because disease control usually deals with drugs, medical experts, pharmacists and other health workers and usually has nothing to do with faith.
“But the components of messages of hope has come to do with faith and that is a combination of science and religion which is fascinating,” he said.
The Caritas scribe urged all religious leaders to always caution their followers to be precautious of the implication of COVID-19 as a public health hazard and employ means to avoid it by staying safe to remain alive.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Nigeria received its first batch of the COVID-19 vaccines with a total of 3.94 million doses on Tuesday in Abuja .
Following the development, the country became the third country in Africa to get the shots through COVAX, a global scheme formed to ensure fair access to inoculation for low- and middle-income states.
Other speakers at the launch, including Ustaz Abubakar Sadeeq, Representative of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs; Rev. Joseph Daramola, Secretary General, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN); and Mr David Akoji of the National Orientation Agency called for equal and fair distribution of the vaccines.