By Ofoyeju Mitchell
The adage, make hay while the sun shines is the watchword for young people as the world grapples for solutions to the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the virus appears to be hitting older people very hard, the young are equally dying. According to the Director-General of World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “I have a message for young people: You are not invincible, this virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you. Even if you don’t get sick the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.”
The WHO also recommends “physical distance” instead of “social distancing” to help prevent transmission of the virus. It is pertinent therefore for adolescents and youths to avoid being complacent in order not to complicate the situation at hand. There should be strict adherence to basic protective instructions such as regular hand washing and cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub, maintaining at least one meter or three feet physical distance with others, practicing good respiratory hygiene and seeking immediate medical attention in the event of fever, cough, and difficulty in breathing.
With an increasing daily number of deaths across the world, various nations have taken drastic measures to contain further spread of the virus.
These include partial or total shut down of schools, religious centers, markets, and businesses. As a result, many people have been thrown into the unemployment market while others have experienced pay cuts.
The supply chain is also distorted with plummeting revenues both for governments and private sectors. The devastating global impact in the past few months is gargantuan.
The current stressful situation characterised by isolation, boredom, financial worries, lack of food, and domestic strife among others now predispose more people to drug use.
Importantly, substance and drug abuse weaken immune systems thereby leading to high susceptibility to the dreaded Coronavirus. Drug habits like smoking of cigarettes, cannabis, heroin, and methamphetamine directly damage the lungs. This, in turn, limits chances of survival since the virus also attacks lungs resulting in difficulty in breathing.
Consequently, people who use drugs become more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections with less chances of survival. There are additional risks currently not widely recognised. These are related risks of drug sharing like cannabis joints, cigarettes, and paraphernalia of drug use to mention a few. Therefore, as more young people are forced to stay at home without going to school and work, the risk of sliding into drug and substance abuse is heightened.
The herculean task of surmounting this COVID-19 pandemic has drastically placed the world on its toes in desperate search of solutions. However, while some people are succumbing to stress negatively, others are seizing opportunities amid calamity to demonstrate a responsible and profitable lifestyle. As a result, many young people have emerged as celebrities by giving themselves to productive thinking.
I find the story of a 20-year-old Usman Dalhatu, a 200-Level student of Mechanical Engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, in Kaduna State, quite motivating. Usman shot himself to limelight by working with raw materials like metals and iron sourced locally from damaged parts of vehicles and other machines in producing a manual ventilator, for managing coronavirus patients. Dalhatu said that he decided to fabricate the ventilator as part of his contribution to government and humanity in containing the pandemic.
Similarly, 36 -year-old Dr. Yunusa Mohammed Garba, a lecturer at the College of Medical Sciences, Gombe State University, and Aliyu Hassan, a graduate of Mechanical Engineering, fabricated an indigenous ventilator, which was presented to the State Governor Inuwa Yahaya.
Equally inspiring is the account of Ezedine Kamil, an 18-year-old Natural Science student from Welkite, a rural town 160 kilometers from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. He blazed the trail with several inventions to combat the Coronavirus. He constructed an electrical soap dispenser with an inbuilt sensor that can be operated using a mechanical pedal during a power cut.
Kamil also produced a mechanical ventilator using locally sourced materials. After a successful test of the prototype, he started producing and delivering the product to his local community. Another product to his credit is a device that reminds people not to touch their faces. The device is like a watch with a sensor that rings anytime the hand approaches the face. The unit can equally be applied to monitor safe physical distancing required to keep the virus away from humans.
Interestingly, 12 and 14-year-old sisters Bethany and Ice in Hong Kong were applauded for creating a wonderful App to motivate the users to keep themselves and their living environment healthy and clean. This is done by defeating virtual viruses with accumulated points in the game. The app includes a series of facts to keep users informed about the coronavirus. Besides, the app has a location tracker function in which users can record the places they went to previously and know if there are outbreaks in those areas.
It is important therefore for young people, teenagers, and youths to subscribe to critical and productive thinking in providing solutions to the pandemic. They must appreciate the fact that solving problems is what creates wealth and brings fame. Therefore this is the time to say no to drug and substance abuse, shun public gatherings that can predispose them to the virus as well as drug use. There is no better time to engage in brainstorming on how to solve the global problem confronting humanity and ultimately write their names in gold.
Ofoyeju Mitchell works with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and is passionate about issues and challenges of young Nigerians’ involvement in substance abuse.