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Nigeria lags behind SA, Ghana in COVID-19 testing after 5 weeks of lockdown

…Concern, doubts as FG targets 2 million tests in 3 months

After five weeks of stay-at-home order imposed on Lagos and Ogun States alongside the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja to contain the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and to contact-trace suspected cases, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has only managed to carry out about 13,689 tests as at 29 April 2020.

This shows that Nigeria is lagging behind in COVID-19 surveillance, contact tracing and testing when compared with its peers such as Ghana and South Africa that have conducted over 100,000 and close to 200,000 testing respectively as at 29 April 2020.

By implication, medical experts are of the opinion that countries like Nigeria that are behind in COVID-19 testing do not know the extent of the coronavirus spread among their citizens, which explains the recent explosion of outbreak and COVID-19-related deaths in the northern part of the country, such as Kano.

According to data from the NCDC, the COVID-19 situation report as at 39 April 2020 shows that Nigeria, a country of nearly 200 million people, has managed to test 13,689 persons in five weeks of lockdown, which came out with a total of 1,728 positive cases with 51 deaths.

Comparatively, statistics from Ghana Health Service stated that the situation updates on COVID-19 outbreak in Ghana as at 28 April 2020 shows that Ghana has been able to test a total of 113,497 persons with a total of 2,074 confirmed cases.

A breakdown of this number shows that about 26,162 persons were tested through routine surveillance resulting to 709 confirmed cases, another 85,313 persons were contact-traced, which resulted to 1,250 confirmed cases while a total of 2,022 persons were tested under mandatory quarantined and 115 persons came out positive.

Commenting on this, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana said on Wednesday 29 April 2020 that the country adopted a rigorous programme of testing for coronavirus and tracing the contacts of those found positive, which has helped Ghana to avoid an explosion in cases that could have overwhelmed its health system.

Akufo-Addo, who stated this at a conference about Africa’s response to the crisis via video from Accra, said that around 110,000 people had been tested, in a population of about 31 million, and the share of positive tests has remained consistent at around 1.5 percent.

Akufo-Addo further stated that the emphasis has been to go out and look for those who are infected and deal with it through aggressive testing.

In South Africa, a total of 197,127 people have been tested for the coronavirus in both the private and public sectors, said Zweli Mkhize, Health Minister on Wednesday 29 April 2020.

According to him, South Africa now has 5,350 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 103 coronavirus-related deaths.

BDSUNDAY check shows that South Africa has one of the speediest responses to the COVID-19 pandemic such that its government had to shut down its borders and put residents into lockdown even before it announced its first COVID-19-related death.

It was also discovered that South Africa was able to drive mass testing and increased COVID-19 surveillance, due to the country’s existing health research and disease-tracing machinery built over the years, which enabled it to cope with its HIV epidemic.

Consequently, as South Africa ramps up its COVID-19 testing, other African countries are lagging behind and do not know the extent of the novel coronavirus’ spread among their citizens.

BDSUNDAY can recall that President Muhammadu Buhari announced Nigeria’s first 14 days movement restrictions which started on Monday 30 March 2020, when the country had already recorded about 97 confirmed cases of COVID-19. This was over one month after the country confirmed its first case on February 27, 2020.

This puts Nigeria among countries that were slow to react, and this was among the reasons the country is seeing some higher number of deaths due to the virus.

Nigeria has also been deficient in testing as tiny number of the population has been tested such that NCDC had also raised alarm that testing kits are grossly inadequate in the country. This is why experts strongly believe that there are many Nigerians going about with full blown coronavirus and such people remain asymptomatic.

However, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nigeria continues to rise amid no vaccine, experts believed that the most vital strategy to tackling this virus remains to test and isolate confirmed cases as early as possible to avoid explosion of COVID-19, which would overwhelm the nation’s fragile healthcare system.

Currently, the need to conduct more testing is being advocated due to increased cases of community transmission in Nigeria.

In line with this school of thought, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general, World Health Organisation (WHO) said earlier last week that the United Nations organ has a simple message for all countries which is “test, test, and test.”

BDSUNDAY research has revealed that while Nigeria is struggling with testing, forward-thinking countries are beginning to look inward to enhance testing, surveillance and other efforts towards containing COVID-19.

For instance, Senegal’s Institut Pasteur de Dakar in partnership with Mologic, a British biotech company, recently developed a COVID-19 testing kit that costs $1 and can deliver results in about 10 minutes.

Also, the institute was able to achieve this by drawing from a wealth of experience gathered from developing vaccines and treatments for several illnesses including yellow fever and dengue. However, it was said that the test kits won’t be ready for distribution until June, after necessary testing must have been concluded.

It was also confirmed that the testing kit can be used at home for a simple test using the saliva or a blood sample of the individual similar to how pregnancy test kit works.

Chikwe Ihekweazu, director-general of NCDC, while speaking at the daily Presidential Task Force (PTF) briefing of last Tuesday said it has set for itself a target of testing 2 million people in the next three months

To achieve this, the NCDC recently published the national testing strategy to rapidly scale up diagnostic testing for all 36 States and the FCT. The strategy uses a five-pronged approach that include:

Firstly, expanding existing NCDC laboratory network with molecular RT-PCR. This aims to increase testing capacity from nine laboratories in states to 15 laboratories in 12 states. Currently, NCDC has a network of 17 COVID-19 testing laboratories in the country.

Secondly, the centre hopes to leverage capacity within the high throughput HIV molecular Testing Private laboratories. This is expected to increase national testing output from 3,000 tests a day to at least 5,000 tests per day.

Thirdly, repurpose point of care tuberculosis testing GeneXpert machines for COVID-19 testing. The objective was to decentralise testing to state level and improve equitable access to testing for all Nigerians thereby reducing the turn-around time by 50 percent.

Fourthly, ensure private laboratories with molecular testing capability are engaged and supported to provide COVID-19 testing as well as to ensure future use of antigen and antibody tests to learn more about the disease.

Pundits however, believed that these targets would be difficult for Nigeria to meet, judging by the fact that government had not only managed to only test just about 13,000 persons in more than one month but had also failed to meet its previous targets.

It would be recalled that on April 1, the Nigerian government said the national testing capacity was increased from 500 to 1,500 to expand coverage. But the Nigerian Infectious Diseases Society (NIDS) said the country was not meeting the daily target.

“They are not meeting the target of 1, 500 testing per day,” said Usman Abdulrahman, an official of NIDS, in a chat with an online newspaper.

Meanwhile, Nigerians have reacted to the nation’s poor responses to the outbreak of the dreaded disease.

While paying tribute to Nigerian workers in his Workers’ Day message, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president of Nigeria, (1999-2007) said on 30th April 2020 that the outbreak of this pandemic has vindicated organised labour’s long time agitation for improved investments in the nation’s healthcare system.

“There is no doubt that when the world comes out of this depressing anguish, governments will look around and see the absolute necessity to increase spending on healthcare, human capital development, better standard of living for the people and all those other topical issues that Labour has long called our attention toward,” he said.

According to him, “We are all witnesses to the reality today that governments across the world have fallen short of the requirement to keep people safe and healthy if there is a sudden and unexpected shock.

Arunma Oteh, who commended Senegal’s effort on her twitter handle @aoteh, said Senegal leveraged on its past experience and innovative solutions in the war against COVID-19.

She stated that Senegal has set great example by producing $1.00 quick diagnostic testing kits and 3D printed ventilator that costs $60.00, which is more cost effective compared an imported one that could cost $16,000.



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