“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. …When the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.” –Lao Tzu
Imagine if it was possible for all travelers moving from one country to another to pass freely through their borders. How would we quickly identify and contain sick people, animals, infected cargo and products as they cross through these entry points?
One easy way to ensure this is to work with the people residing in border communities. When they are educated and equipped, they become health champions who are aware of the signs and symptoms of infectious diseases and can identify them, prevent their spread, as well as notify the necessary public health authorities for further management and action. This will stop the spread of infections within and across communities around the country.
As part of our ongoing health security activities, we identified key groups of local leaders and influencers in 6 border communities namely; Jibia (Katsina), Kamba (Kebbi), Illela (Sokoto), Maigatari (Jigawa), Idiroko (Ogun) and Seme Border (Lagos), who we worked with to help identify, prevent and manage disease outbreaks in the communities.
We actively engaged with some of these community influencers through our advocacy visits and they assured us of their support and commitment to helping secure the country’s health. Our team identified more than 17,600 stakeholders, including religious leaders, market union heads, road transport workers and officials, Miyetti Allah, staff of primary health centres and general hospitals, health educators and community volunteers, among others. Of the various categories of people, market unions, road transport workers, and hospitals constituted a large number of the stakeholders identified.
To understand the existing knowledge, attitude and practices of infectious diseases and their prevention among these identified key population groups, a survey was carried out in 3 of the 6 border communities (Seme, Maigatari and Kamba). The result of this survey was used to design a tailored social and behaviour change communication intervention to sensitize 5,394 members of the identified key population groups across the 3 land borders.
In a bid to strengthen collaborations across borders (between Nigeria and our neighbouring countries) to prevent and control the spread of infections at entry points, we have established/activated Cross Border Surveillance Forums (CBSF) between 4 land borders in the north and their counterparts in the Republic of Niger, and 2 land borders in Lagos and Ogun and the Republic of Benin.
The cross-border forums in each location meet to share epidemiological surveillance data relating to recent illnesses or outbreaks in the communities – confirmed or suspected cases of infectious diseases in their vicinity including Marburg virus, Monkeypox and even COVID-19. The members of these forums have also established a rapid system to share information between the health authorities of Nigeria and our neighbours as a way of sustaining the collaborations and ensuring emergencies are communicated in a timely manner.
As we continue to put in the work needed to keep Nigerians and our neighbours informed and prepared to take necessary action to keep our borders safe, evidence and data we have gathered show that the interventions we carried out within the 6 ground crossings have led to increased surveillance and awareness for infectious diseases.
Through our engagement and sensitization of local community leaders and key groups and the establishment/reactivation of Cross Border Surveillance Forums, stakeholders at the 6 border communities are now equipped with resources to identify signs and symptoms of infectious diseases. The established collaborative structure is well prepared to share information and notify appropriate quarters for action to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.