Opportunity-turned-hazard: from Ebola to COVID-19, Lagos, as Nigeria’s foremost aviation hub, has twice turned the country’s epicentre of a serious epidemic and a ravaging pandemic.

On both occasions though, the state government has admirably rallied against the threat; and somewhat acted as bulwark against a country-wide free-wheeling infection. But for the Lagos response, to both Ebola and the present COVID-19, Nigeria would have been far worse hit by both.

Which is why the state’s reverse hazard-turned-opportunity tale, just announced by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is sheer music to the ear.

In a classic necessity as mother of invention, the governor, on June 29, announced Lagos State’s plan to put in place a purpose-built International Infectious Disease Research Centre (IIDRC), at the same Mainland Infectious Disease Hospital (MIDH) that curtailed the Ebola threat after the Liberian index case; and treated the Italian, Nigeria’s first COVID-19 case.

In infectious diseases research, the IIDRC would be a comely symbol of history meeting medicine, to the general wellness of the people.

Speaking at the Coalition of the Private Sector Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) donation of a 150-bed coronavirus facility, named Mainland Infectious Disease Isolation Centre, Governor Sanwo-Olu said: “We have committed that this hospital, post-COVID-19, would see a purpose-built international infectious disease research centre; the designs are out already. We will,” he continued, “also be building purpose-built isolation wards. We will ramp up our infrastructure and capacity; and not wait for a pandemic to come on us again.”

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The governor’s declaration echoes Prof. Akin Abayomi’s earlier disclosure, of a post-Ebola-enhanced Lagos infectious disease-handling capacity — an Ebola-era bio-laboratory plant, upgraded to handle the current COVID-19 pandemic. The commissioner spoke in a special TVC Adedoja Salaam-Adeniyi-anchored news documentary, aired by the TV station in May.

The governor also said the new IIDRC would come with doctors’ quarters, “as part of our global plan for the Yaba Infectious Disease Hospital.”

All these are welcome news — for it would be tragic really, if Nigeria did not seize the COVID-19 pandemic, and its shuttered medical tourism abroad, to develop home-grown solutions, at least in tropical diseases, where it has environmental advantages to mount world-class quality research, en route to providing first-rate care and treatment.

It is heart-warming that Lagos is leading the charge on this wonderful post-COVID-19 path. Other governments, federal and state, should follow suit. Nevertheless, inasmuch as Lagos has proved its mettle up to this point, the government should ensure the new IIDRC, when completed and operational, does not suffer the fate of other research agencies, which often go comatose because of lack of funding.

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The private sector too should chip in here, in the spirit of COVID-19 era private-public-participation (PPP) collaboration, which birthed the CACOVID event, at which the governor announced the project. As the government puts in place the new research centre, private sector players, in tropical medicine, drugs, pharmaceuticals and allied areas, can chip in funding to research, in their specific areas of interest, in public health.

But it is also in the spirit of this PPP in public health that we must commend CACOVID-Lagos State collaboration, on the COVID-19 challenge. At the event, Prof. Abayomi said the CACOVID 150-bed facility, the sixth of such Lagos isolation centres, is complete with a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) laboratory, a routine laboratory, administrative and ancillary facilities, a water treatment plant, a waste management system and three power generators.

The commissioner further volunteered: “Today we are opening the 6th of our isolation centres in Lagos, specially committed to COVID-19. This isolation centre is donated by a consortium known as CACOVID and we have been working together now for almost four months to design, to build and to complete this fabulous structure, which is going to add 150 more isolation beds to our central isolation capacity.”

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That reinforces the win-win beauty of PPP collaboration in public health, with or without epidemics: for corporates to make profit and the government to earn taxes, the market and the public must be healthy.

Still, as the governor emphasised at the event, personal responsibility is crucial to curtail COVID-19. So, Lagosians — as indeed all Nigerians — must take personal responsibility, by strictly following COVID-19 health advisories and protocols.

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