I was listening to Football Frenzy on 95.1 Nigeria Info FM, Abuja a few hours ago. As the title of the program suggests, it is an exclusively football program and even though the footballing world, like every other endeavor in the world today has been hit hard and put to a full stop by the out-of-control COVID-19, one would not expect an emergency case to be reported live on air on such a program.
But then one fellow called in 'sick', afraid and confused. He asked for the NCDC emergency numbers. He said he has not been feeling fine and he suspects that he has the corona virus.
The presenter, inquisitive, asked him some questions but the caller's answers didn't tilt towards the common symptoms. He then asked if he could walk to a "pharmacy" and get tested for the virus and again, the presenter told that was possible. His last comment was, " so naso pesin go just die, abi?"
I felt for him. But from what he described, and I say this knowing that I'm not an authority on matters and I'm not feigning one, I can say from reading between the lines that the man is only just scared and maybe depressed from the messages he has been fed both on local and international media about this virus and the havoc it has wreaked wherever it has been.
I don't want to dwell on the fact that his responses exposed certain ignorance he has about the disease and what he should do if he gets exposed to it. But for instance, asking about getting the test done at a pharmacy is way off guard.
It then reminded me of a post on Facebook by the user, Haruna Job Zubairu who is based in Minna, Niger state. He posted: "e be like say psychological symptoms dey o!." Niger of course, has since gone into an 8:00AM to 8:00 PM lockdown. A lockdown down is strange to Nigerians. Therefore, the thought of it and then the reality of it, is bound to unsettle people and even capable of making them uneasy.
We don't tend weigh things like this on a big scale. As a result, it doesn't look like something big on the face value, but to ask the kind of question that Mr. Haruna in Minna asked, is a powerful retort. It means that the fight has moved on to, or let me say, is moving beyond the physical to a new level: psychological.
If that's the case, we risk a greater battle on our hands if this situation degenerates to psychological 'warfare' in the minds of citizens. We nip it in the bud. Like when the government assured the people that they don't have panic and then demonstrate why, they were doing a psychological work on their minds of the citizens. The same thing when it declared itself ready many weeks before the first case was recorded. Even the regular briefing by the government to reassure the citizens is in furtherance of that confidence and trust building. The Federal Ministry of Health and its counterpart in the Ministry of Information must now take their efforts in managing this pandemic to a new level. At some point, in fact right now, they must begin to evaluate the messages that go out there and design appropriate strategic communication to manage all of that does of grim information, fake news and mischief to complement how this "war" against the corona virus is being fought. I say this even in the face of the global realities on the ground. Italy and Spain still look in dire straits and the U.S seem to be worsening.
Yes, thousands of deaths have been recorded and these fatalities have come from advanced world and that's enough to send shivers down the spine of ordinary people here who know that our health infrastructure is no where near modern facilities that the virus has decimated in Europe and America, but then again, our reality is that only one death has been recorded here. A little bit of positivity like that in the message can do a lot to assuaging the psychological state of citizen who may already be falling out of the balance.
We will win this war, one battle after the other and we can do it also minimizing the collateral damage. But we must realize that it is also a war for hearts and kinds. Just like in conventional warfares where post traumatic stress disorder can become a major issue on the front line, the state of mind of the citizens must be won to avoid them becoming uncertain wanderers and ending up losing psychologically as some have apparently began show all of the doom and gloom is taking its toll on them.
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