#COVID19: Health Experts Express Worry As Nigeria Tests Only 5,000; Ghana, 37,954; South Africa, 80,085

The professional bodies of health experts have expressed worry over the relatively low numbers of coronavirus testing in Nigeria and has called on the authorities to step up their testing capacity to successfully battle the spread of COVID-19.

A shocking statistics obtained from on Sunday showed that Nigeria had tested only 5,000 persons, while Ghana with a much smaller national population had tested as much as 37,954 persons and the number of persons tested so far in South Africa was 80,085.

This has led to a loud outcry from the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) and the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), who in lamentation, declared that it was not enough for the federal and state governments to impose lockdown on citizens without ensuring that persons who had contact with those infected with the coronavirus were accurately traced and tested.

President Muhammadu Buhari had, on March 29, ordered A lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states had been ordered by the country’s President Muhammadu Buhari to enable health authorities trace and treat people that had contracted the deadly coronavirus.

Some governors, such as, those of Katsina, Kwara, Osun and Rivers states also ordered a lockdown of their states, including closing the entry and exit points of their state boundaries.

Even the World Health Organisation (WHO), whose head is faced with mounting calls for his resignation following his poor handling of the crisis and information about the outbreak in Wuhan, China, had, last week said there was an urgent need to increase COVID-19 testing in Africa. It further advised that testing must go beyond cities.

When COVID-19 was first detected in Nigeria on Thursday, February 27, the coronavirus testing centres were just five. But the centres were increased to ten by the next day.

Cases more than what govt recorded – Nurses

Commenting on Nigeria’s testing capacity, the President of the NANNM, AbdulRauf Adeniji, in an interview with The PUNCH, said COVID-19 had brought to the fore problems in the country’s health sector.

He stated, “The truth is that we are not well-equipped for the virus. Before COVID-19 came to Nigeria, the minister (of health) said we were equipped, but it is clear that our infrastructure cannot handle the testing capacity.

“People can have the virus and will not know it and still mingle with health officials and even their families thereby spreading it. We are playing with the tail of a rattle snake in this country.

“What I am saying is that the number of people, who have coronavirus in Nigeria, is more than the number recorded by government.

“The PTF (the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19) should be able to advise government properly on what should be done. The case definition is a problem. People may have it without all the conditions (high temperature, coughing and sneezing) stated. Despite lockdown, we still see people walking around.

People may have COVID-19 and seek herbal treatment – NANNM

“All federal teaching institutions must be able to, by now, test people for it. At least, in each senatorial district, there should be a testing centre.

“People may have it and seek herbal treatment while disobeying social distancing order. The commitment of our health workers is still the grace we have in Nigeria.”

There is under-testing, lockdown not effective – Resident doctors

On his part, the President of the Association of Resident Doctors, University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Dr Abbah Ugwu, said the government was not doing enough.

He stated, “We have limited cases because our testing capacity is not enough. We have not tested enough people as in other countries. Government is chasing thousands of people who have had contact with established cases, but I cannot say that the number we have is a true picture of the existence of the virus in Nigeria because we are not testing enough.

“There is gross under-testing of the people so the lockdown is not effective. In other countries, they have started doing house-to-house testing of their people.  But it is unfortunate that we are not getting enough information from government concerning the testing capacity we have. Only increase in the number of testing will make the lockdown effective.”

Decentralise testing centres,  MDCAN tells FG

Also, the MDCAN advised the Federal Government to redouble its efforts in the fight against coronavirus in the country. It said testing centres should be decentralised.

The MDCAN President, Prof. Kenneth Ozoilo, who spoke to one of our correspondents in Jos on Sunday, said although state and federal governments were doing a lot to stop the spread of the disease, the anxiety among Nigerians was enough reason to test more people to ascertain their status.

He said that a situation where only those who had symptoms of coronavirus were being tested for the disease leaving the healthy carriers would not solve the problem.

Ozoilo said, “You cannot respond appropriately to coronavirus with the lockdown.  It’s true we have low figures in the numbers of recorded deaths and infected persons compared with other countries, but we are not testing enough people considering our population.

“The people who are infecting other people are the healthy carriers of the disease. But what we find in our country is a situation where only people who are already sick as a result of the disease are being tested. That means they would have infected so many people before they become eligible to be tested.

“That is absurd and wrong. So, we should be testing both the sick people and any other person that has contact with a suspected person even if he does not get sick”

The MDCAN President, who identified testing centres as crucial in the fight against coronavirus,   urged the government to decentralise the centres for the benefit of Nigerians.

Limited testing means we don’t know number of cases – NMA

The President of the NMA, Dr  Francis Faduyile, called for increase in the country’s testing capacity for COVID-19.

Faduyile, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said the more cases would be discovered if more tests were carried out.

He said, “There is no doubt that we need to step up our testing capacity. Not doing enough tests means we don’t know the total number of cases we have. We cannot plan appropriately to take care of those who are infected and those who have not been tested and do not know their status. Such people  are sources of transmission to the general populace.”

Without lockdown compliance full blown transmission imminent – NMA

The NMA president also warned that Nigeria risked full blown transmission of COVID-19 if people continued to flout the Federal Government lockdown order.

Despite the lockdown order, a lot of people are still seen on the streets, especially in Abuja and Lagos where the curve for coronavirus cases has been on the rise.

Faduyile said although economic reality in the country had made it difficult for people to stay at home, it was important to make the sacrifice to stay at home to avert a major health crisis.

He said, “We still have a heightening of the slope and it will take some time to flatten it. That will, however, depend on how much our people obey the government order on stay at home and the FG’s commitment and intervention to ensure the order on physical distancing is obeyed.

“Economic reality makes people rebuff the order, but if we have a full blown epidemic in Nigeria, we will know why it is important to obey the stay at home order.”

FG to announce new strategies as Nigeria witnesses community spread

In a related development, the Federal Government is set to announce new strategies to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic based on the assumption that the country is now witnessing a community spread, The PUNCH has learnt.

A top source told The PUNCH that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control had been unable to trace the origin of some new cases.

The source, who is a top medical doctor, said, “We are now working on the assumption that we are now witnessing a community spread. We have some patients in quarantine that can neither trace their point of origin nor tell us everyone they came in contact with.

“These are people who have no history of foreign travel. An example is the gateman who tested positive in Kaduna State last week shortly after returning from Lagos.

“We have submitted our recommendations to Mr. President and he is expected to extend the lockdown. We will be announcing new strategies which may include wearing of masks and more stringent contact restrictions.

“Some states may also witness lockdown. Our health system in Nigeria isn’t good but if some states which are less developed than Lagos have high infection rates then we are in trouble.”

  • With additional reports by the Punch.