COVID-19: Too poor to stay safe

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A large number of Nigerian households could not afford to buy sufficient supplies of the water they needed for handwashing, a survey in June 2020 has shown.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) COVID-19 Impact Monitoring report, despite high awareness of safety measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, almost a quarter of respondents do not have sufficient soap to wash their hands.
This is even as frequent handwashing with soap is widely advised as a preventive measure against COVID-19.

COVID-19: Too poor to stay safe
Photo by Muhammadtaha Ibrahim Ma’aji

According to the findings of the second round of the NBS’ Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey (NLPS) conducted last month, in the baseline, soap and cleaning supplies were the most commonly needed items, and most families confirmed that they were able to purchase soap when needed.

The report said that nearly a quarter, 24% of households, did not have sufficient soap to wash their hands in June and about 7% of households also reported insufficient access to water for handwashing.

It further noted that the shortage of water for drinking and washing hands faced by households was primarily due either to a disruption in the supply or inability to access the source of water.

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The NBS described the COVID-19 NLPS launched in April 2020 with the support of The World Bank as a monthly survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,950 households to monitor the economic impact of the pandemic and other shocks.

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The pandemic has amplified Nigeria’s many inequalities, particularly the lack of access to basic amenities, infrastructure, steady income and safety nets. Unsurprisingly, those at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder have been the most affected by the effects.

Data of this nature reinforces the fact that the problems of countries such as Nigeria are significantly more base than those in the more developed parts of the world.

While there is no publicly available data that disaggregates those who have contracted the virus in Nigeria based on demographics, it is very likely that those without access to water and soap in order to practice safety measures are more affected, possibly an indicator that they are also unable to afford or access facemasks.

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Despite a desire to adhere to safety measures, pervasive poverty makes it impossible for far too many Nigerians to follow through, especially as many of those affected live in densely-populated urban areas with very little social distancing or in rural areas.

Considering the low testing rate in Nigeria (about 2,000 tests daily), it is very likely that there are many COVID-19 patients in these communities who may be asymptomatic and inadvertently increasing the spread.

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