Experts are expressing fears that many people across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) might have been exposed to the coronavirus (COVID-19) but their status could not be ascertained because only 0.01% of the population has been tested which is an insignificant size.
Though they commended the federal government’s efforts towards establishing testing centres in different parts of the country, the experts called for renewed vigour in that direction to forestall emergency situation that would overwhelm existing facilities.
But the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, has disclosed that his team was looking for about 6,000 people who had contacts with COVID-19 patients in Lagos and Abuja.
The NCDC boss said so far, 2,000 people had been tested for coronavirus nationwide.
However, Dr. Ifeanyichukwu Casmir, national publicity secretary of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (ALMSN), one of the experts , said testing 2000 for COVID-19 in a population of about 200 million people was grossly inadequate and insignificant.
Speaking yesterday while featuring on Sunrise Daily, a programme on Channels Television, Dr. Ihekweazu said the NCDC and the Federal Ministry of Health hoped to use the period of the two-week lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari to trace contacts of infected persons.
According to him, “These weeks will allow our teams to have access to the contacts that are living around Lagos and FCT. We are following over 6,000 contacts of the 111 confirmed cases across these two cities. Every time we have a new case, we add about 50 to 60 contacts to follow every single day for 14 days.”
On the number of people tested for the COVID-19, he said, “We have tested well over 2,000 people; we will update those figures today or tomorrow. We have increased the number of labs in our network to six. We are activating Abakaliki today (Monday). There would be a 7th laboratory in our network.
On how long it takes to test one person, he said, “It takes 24 to 48 hours for a coronavirus test to be done and the result released.”
Ihekweazu said the NCDC was working towards reducing the duration to 12 hours.
“Molecular testing is carried out in runs. One run can take six to seven hours. We have now almost optimised the process to do three runs a day in each lab. And that is why you have seen the numbers rise because we are testing more samples and producing more results.”
Dr. Ifeanyichukwu Casmir, national publicity secretary of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (ALMSN), said the fact that government was trying to trace 6,000 people, who have been exposed to the virus, and were still mingling and putting the rest of the population at risk, made it very important for the government to carry out massive testing of the population.
He said: “10% of a population of 200 million is 20 million, 10% of 20 million is 2 million, 10% of 2 million is 200, 000, 10% of 200, 000 is 20,000 , then 10% of 20, 000 is 2, 000 meaning only 0.01% of the population has been tested which is an insignificant size.”
Dr. Casmir said the decision of government to use 13 laboratories (seven were added to the existing five laboratories) for COVID-19 test was not in order when there were many private molecular laboratories in the country that could reduce the pressure.
He said there was no need for government to limit testing to a privilege few when over 40,000 members of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (ALMSN) were willing to volunteer their services and contribute in the response.
The expert called on state governors to dedicate 1 per cent of their security votes to set up molecular testing labs for COVID-19 in their respective states.
The chief consultant physician at Gwarimpa District Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Ndubuisi Onuoha, however, is of the opinion that testing people based on relevant symptoms or who have had contact with positive cases as NCDC was the right thing to do.
He said just going to people’s houses to test or doing random tests just to have the number would be a wasted effort because there would be many negative results. On his part, Dr. Mohammed Aliyu, another medical practitioner, said “I am partially in tune with the decision taken by President Muhammadu Buhari but I want them to also emulate the South Korean model of containing the virus.”
He said, “Just check and see what they have achieved in the last few days. South Korea has tested more than 300,000 people from the 50 million people they have. This means they tested over 5,000 out of every one million people,” he said.
The federal government said yesterday that it would focus testing and treatment for COVID-19 on persons who critically need them as the situation evolves.
Minister of State for Health, Adeleke Mamora stated this while briefing newsmen in Abuja.
He said: “As the situation evolves, we shall need to focus our limited resources on those persons who actually need them most critically; from testing to treatment of confirmed cases.”
The minister said that testing for COVID 19 was free and at no cost to the public, adding that anyone demanding to be paid or given a tip should be immediately reported to the appropriate authorities.
Asked what it costs the federal government to test a person, he said it is about N10, 000.
He said there were no Rapid Diagnostic Tests available that had been validated by WHO because they often gave unreliable results.
“Unless you have been tested in one of the six molecular laboratories for COVID-19 in Nigeria, your results are likely useless. If you think you fit the case definition of a suspect case, please call the NCDC or your state hotline for immediate testing. This is the only way to ensure you get suitable treatment,” he said.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases have risen to 139 in the country as the NCDC announced 4 new cases last night.
The figure released last night showed that Abuja had three while Lagos had one new confirmed case. Lagos State as on Tuesday night, had 82 confirmed cases while Abuja trailed behind with 28 confirmed cases. NCDC, on its Twitter handle announcing the new figure, said while nine confirmed cases had been treated and discharged, two deaths have been recorded since the dreaded disease hit the country. “As at 08:00 pm 31st March, there are:139 confirmed cases, nine discharged and two deaths,” it said.
At a press briefing on March 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) said shutting down population movement is not the solution to coronavirus.
Director-General of the world’s body, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said, “We understand that countries are trying to assess when and how they will be able to ease these measures.
“The answer depends on what countries do while these population-wide measures are in place. Asking people to stay at home and shutting down population movement is buying time and reducing the pressure on health systems, but on their own, these measures will not extinguish the epidemics.
“The point of these actions is to enable the more precise and targeted measures that are needed to stop transmission and save lives. We call on all countries that have introduced so-called ‘lockdown’ measures to use this time to attack the virus. You have created a second window of opportunity. The question is: how will you use it? There are 6 key actions that we recommend:
Expand, train, and deploy your health care and public health workforce
Implement a system to find every suspected case at the community level.
Ramp up production capacity and availability of testing
Identify, adapt, and equip facilities you will use to treat patients.
Develop a clear plan and process to quarantine contacts
Refocus the whole of government on suppressing and controlling COVID-19.
Ghebreyesus said the measures remained the best way to suppress and stop transmission so that when restrictions were lifted, the virus will not resurge.
“The last thing any country needs is to reopen schools and businesses only to be forced to close them again because of resurgence,” he cautioned.