Friday , March 24 2023

COVID-19 Fatality Rate In Europe: Scientists Blame Air Pollution, Likely Factor In Nigeria’s Infection Pattern

For a government led by a political party formed by an aggregation of disparate political groupings, it may not be a surprise that Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari has assumed an unenviable leadership in negative indices. Not that things were much better under previous administrations. No, it’s that the situation is getting worse, contrary to election promises and criticism of immediate past regime.

This perception is graphically presented in the words of Shola Ogundipe in a 2018 Vanguard publication. “Nigeria has the highest maternal mortality in the world. It’s the country with the highest number of extremely poor people in the world. And, now, it has the highest burden of fatalities from air pollution.” The air people breathe in Nigeria is more likely to cause harm than the air in any other country in Africa because Nigeria currently has the highest burden of fatalities from air pollution in Africa and 4th highest in the world, with 150 deaths per 100,000 people attributable to pollution.”

Yet, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, has warned that the country might start to count bodies in their hundreds in the next three weeks following the spread of coronavirus in the country. This is just as NCDC announced it had recorded 661 new cases, raising tally to 19,808.

In the 2018 annual State of the Global Air Report published by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), which released the rating, (the situation can only get worse since the findings), gave the breakdown as follows: In highly industrialised countries like China, it was 117 deaths per 100,000 people; Russia, 62 deaths per 100,000 people; Germany, 22 deaths per 100,000 people; United Kingdom, 21 deaths per 100,000 people; the United States, 21 deaths per 100,000 people; Japan 13 deaths per 100,000 people and Canada, 12 deaths per 100,000 people. From the foregoing data, Nigeria emerged number one in Africa, which may be tolerated and fourth highest globally, which is lamentable.

Major sources of air pollution in Nigeria include tailpipe exhaust from all manners of over-used second-hand cars and dilapidated trucks and buses which litter all our urban centres, industrial effluents, protracted gas flare by oil giants in Niger Delta, smoke from open burning of residential trash, diesel generators, road dust and soot from the use of biomass-fuelled cook-stoves indoors, among others.

A recent research finding attributed the high fatality rate in Europe of the globally rampaging COVID-19 pandemic to air pollution. “Of the 10 worst hit countries, six are in Europe where 186,859 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic, whereas the death toll is 141,979 people in North America and 56,391 people in South America.
“In Europe, the coronavirus pandemic has already claimed more lives than the war in the former Yugoslavia,” said Dalibor Dostal, Director of European Wildlife, adding that the death toll of the conflict on the Balkan peninsular was about 140 thousand victims.

According to scientists, one of the causes of the substantially higher death toll in Europe than in other continents may be air pollution. A team headed by chemist Leonardo Setti from the University of Bologna in Northern Italy was one of the first to point this out during an investigation into why the virus is spreading far more quickly in Northern Italy – specifically in the industrialised Po Plain – than in other parts of the country. “The experts ascertained that the daily balance of confirmed infection cases in Northern Italy is closely related to the pollution level, which may be down to two different reasons. The second explanation for the correlation between both phenomena may also be the fact that a high   concentration of dust particles in the atmosphere increases susceptibility to disease.” Vehicular traffic is blamed as a major source of air pollution in Germany.

According to Dostal, Europe must learn from the current crisis. Apart from stricter checks of passengers coming from non-EU countries, the quality of the air must mainly be improved. “Europe must in a major way reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants, factories, as well as transport. In particular the number of diesel engines, which are a significant source of dust particles, should continue to be lowered in the car sector. At the same time, Europe needs a strategy to support electric vehicles, which would speed up the rise of emission-free vehicles.  The smog-reduction measures should be an integral part of the measures to save the European economy,“ he said

The choice of the 2018 statistics on the quality of air we breathe in Nigeria as the worst in Africa is to add to the volume of evidence published in the Orbit about the underlying environmental factors that were long neglected, which incidentally have turned out to be contributing factors to high infection of the coronavirus. But as usual, the government’s approach to the pandemic is one way: repeat measures taken in Europe and China with a view to winning WHO’s approval, which spells cash support from the world body and donor nations. Unfortunately, this is part of the reason why many Nigerians still refuse to believe that the coronavirus is real. Some are vocal that the government is just suffering her citizens for the sake of dollar inflow from the United Nations agencies, which is unfortunate.

Take the case of pollution: If in Europe where the environment is so clean and inviting; where nature is preserved and not abused; where most vehicles are fresh from the factory and people maintain a high level of hygiene, COVID-19 had such a devastating impact, what can one say of Nigeria where anything goes and no one cares. The air quality bothers no one, both governments and individuals. Besides, neither the universities nor research agencies tell the government that there are ignored health and ecological factors that could be as deadly as the coronavirus. Yet, the figures are rising. And there is some evidence to show that the pattern is not too different from the European scientists’ findings on the deadly impact of COVID-19 on their continent.

Consistently, Lagos has been leading in both infection and fatality rates. It is followed by Abuja the Federal Capital Territory with equally high population of vehicles and habitat, leaving Kano on the third position. The latest figures from the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) shows higher number of cases being recorded daily. With the exception of Anambra State, which may be attributable to inadequate testing or other factors, the pattern is in line with the level of industrial and commercial activities and unhealthy environmental conditions. 

Total infections or confirmed cases nationwide as of June 21 – 19,808; Total deaths – 506; Total tests carried out – 111,052; 6,718 cases have been discharged. Meanwhile, Lagos State’s total confirmed cases lead with 8,407; Abuja (1,549), Kano (1,184), Rivers (866), Oyo (860), Edo (779), Ogun (623), Kaduna (552), Delta (501), Borno (466), Gombe (451), Bauchi (447), Katsina (426), Jigawa (317), Ebonyi (234), Abia (221). The last six states can be explained by other environmental and health-care conditions in addition to air pollution. We have too many experts by count but when issues of this nature arise little is heard from experts in the relevant fields of learning or practice, even though government’s response does not help matters. Notwithstanding, one question still prompts attention: How can Nigeria reduce air pollution? 

In Nigeria, air pollution can be reduced if only governments of the federation and their agencies appreciate the need for smog-free environment through their actions and policy measures. The quality of vehicles and machinery being imported into the country should be reviewed, including total ban on importation or smuggling of used refrigerators and other electronic gadgets; state and local governments must rise up to the responsibility of waste disposal and effective control of industrial effluents; the federal government must be bold and sincere in compelling the oil giants to end the over half a century flaring of gas; there must be a turn-around in power generation and distribution to make the populace less dependent on generating sets; reduction can also be achieved by improving access to clean household energy, that is, transitioning to cleaner cook-stoves and solar lighting; total eradication of bush burning as well as improving municipal solid waste management.

*Nwafo, Consulting Editor of News Express/Environmental Analyst can be reached on: [email protected]; +2348029334754.

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