The emergence of COVID-19 in Nigeria has forced lockdowns in parts of the country. Some are working from home; many are not working - but civil registrar Chioma Agudosi has no choice. And she loves it.
“I work with children, and I am a mother too,” said Agudosi, who works with the National Population Commission in Abuja, Nigeria’s administrative capital.
“I am dedicated to whatever I’m doing – even more so when it concerns children’s welfare.”
Agudosi’s job is crucial. While COVID-19 has brought global lockdowns and shut down parts of the economy access to many routine services, babies are still being born.
The United Nations Statistics Division estimates that the number of children under age one in Nigeria this year could be as high as seven million. All of these children will need to be registered and issued birth certificates, despite COVID-19. This will ensure the country can provide them access to basic social services, essential healthcare, basic education and early childhood development services.
Between 29 April and 1 May, Agudosi registered about 60 children’s births. Her own children have birth certificates as well. But it is a job that is now taking its toll.
Only those delivering essential services can move during restrictions in Abuja, but Agudosi – considered a non-essential worker, does not own a car. She must find her own way to the Primary Health Centre in Jiwa community, a densely populated urban slum of Abuja, with very few transportation options.
“In the morning I wake up, prepare breakfast for my family, dress and then set out for work. Getting to the hospital is not easy. But once I get there, meeting the newborn babies makes it somehow easier for me to forget my worries. Getting back home is again difficult, because of lack of transportation,” she said.
The primary health center where Agudosi works caters to thousands of women who come to give birth. The newborns must be immunized and registered, COVID-19 notwithstanding. Agudosi is needed in the clinic - despite the pandemic around her. She must observe infection protection and control protocols, to protect herself, those around her, and her family back home.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has really affected my work. Not only is it difficult to get to the hospital, when I attend to people, I can’t come close; I have to distance myself."
Before the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, Agudosi was accustomed to a roomful of women and crying babies lining up for immunization, followed by birth registration. The pandemic has changed that.
“Before we could seat many people and attend to them freely, but now everyone has to distance by two meters and it is often difficult to communicate,” she said of the changes.
Agudosi continues her work nonetheless, despite growing concern about the spread of the coronavirus and apparent ease of contracting it. COVID-19 is highly contagious and poses a big threat to health workers. Most who contract the disease do so while working in health facilities.
“It is not that I’m not afraid of it. But what can I do? I have important work to do,” she said.
Once the newborns are immunized at the health center, it is up to Agudosi to ensure each child is registered as an individual entity - not just another birth undocumented and swept under the carpet. These registrations are added to a database that will help social service planning in Nigeria
Each birth at Jiwa is a moment of happiness for the parents, health workers and birth registrars.
And while COVID-19 is making the experience of registering each new birth difficult, birth registrars are braving the virus to ensure each newborn is registered, thereby ensuring they have an official identity, that will impact their entire futures.