Covid-19 vaccine expected in Nigeria, but more awareness needed up north

·2-min read

The number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in Nigeria as the national Centre for Disease and Control says more than 100,000 people have been infected, with Lagos, the economic capital, a hotspot.

Despite the spike in cases, many in central and southern Nigeria are strictly abiding by Covid-19 safety measures, including social distancing, frequent handwashing and wearing masks, says RFI Hausa service journalist Garba Aliyu Zaria.

In northern Nigeria, he says, people are less likely to abide by the rules, mainly because it contradicts their religious and traditional practices.

“Many cultural practices are very contrary to preventive measures… it’s difficult to ask a Hausa man to greet another person with their elbow,” he tells RFI’s Africa Calling podcast, referring to not using a handshake, in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Many northern Nigerian Hausa-speaking residents are Muslim, and believe that they already use cleanliness practices as part of their religion, where they perform ablutions, washing their face, hands, arms, and feet five times a day before prayer.

Zaria says that many northerners watch television and listen to the radio, and are well-informed on how the virus is spread, via nasal or mouth droplets.

“They watched how many countries, including Saudi Arabia, prevented many Muslims from going for the annual Hajj rituals and Jerusalem also closed its borders. They take it seriously, but not as serious as it should be,” he says, adding that state governments are imposing fines in order to get people to wear face masks.

Vaccines for Nigeria

The Nigerian government announced that it expects to receive 100,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine this month in order to combat the virus. The health authorities hope to vaccinate 40 percent of Nigerians by the end of the year — a big challenge for the African continent’s most populous country.

Dealing with challenges in getting the vaccines out to rural areas and cold storage will be a factor, but making sure people understand what the vaccine is for and how it will be used will need to be addressed, says Zaria, particularly up north.

Carrying out polio vaccinations in northern Nigeria was problematic previously due to misinformation, where people thought the vaccine was a form of Western-imposed birth control. A special campaign aimed at northern Nigerians would be welcome to dispel any sort of preconceived notions, says Zaria.

He says part of the problem is that the government announces numbers, but has not shown actual people stricken with Covid-19.

“Some people say, ‘let the government show us who contracts this virus’. And the government doesn’t seem to be doing that; they only announce cases without showing the people concerned,” he says.

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