Current laboratory and diagnostic tools put in place by the federal government in collaboration with development partners to detect and contain the Novel coronavirus which is fast spreading across the world are not yet sufficient, the World Health Organization has noted.
According to WHO, it is important for countries to put in place strong surveillance and strengthen preparedness rapid detection and containment of the Coronavirus.
This mainly includes identifying isolation points and treatment facilities, having laboratories with diagnostic capacities and developing critical stockpile for response as well as the needed manpower.
However, WHO noted that Nigeria’s current level of preparedness needs to be improved on.
This comes amidst concerns that Nigeria has been listed among 13 African countries with high risk of Coronavirus importation due to the high level of travel between Nigeria and China. WHO said the FCT, Lagos, Kano, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, PortHarcourt, Enugu, Delta and Bayelsa States were at high risk.
Dhamari Naidoo, WHO technical officer, Health Emergency Programme, noted for instance that the teaching hospital in Gwagwalada Abuja which has been identified as an isolation and treatment centre is in need of equipment.
Naidoo highlighted also the need to re-train health care personnel on how to respond and deal with the Coronavirus which is a respiratory outbreak. She informed that WHO is currently performing assessments to identify the most appropriate facilities across the country to work with and what additional resources are needed.
“There is the need to improve infrastructure, put in new equipment and the assessment to determine that are ongoing.
“By next week or so we will roll out training and capacity building”, Naidoo told BusinessDAY.
The technical officer further informed that WHO is working with development partners to fast track the development of therapeutics, diagnostics to ensure steady supply across the world.
Naidoo’s position contradicts federal government’s earlier announcement on its readiness to combat coronavirus which has already killed over 1,000 and infected over 42,000. The minister of health, Osagie Ehanire specifically said recently that Nigeria has acquired in-country capacity to test for Coronavirus.
The Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease (NCDC) had also said the centre has validated capacity to test for the virus at its National Reference Laboratory (NRL) in Gaduwa, Abuja.
According to the NCDC, this means that Nigeria now has the capacity to diagnose any suspected case of Coronavirus.
Emeka Oguanuo, spokesperson of the Centre had told BusinessDAY that the NCDC has always had testing capacity for highly infectious diseases like the Ebola at the NRL, but said because the coronavirus is new, what wasn’t available anywhere in the world was the reagents for testing, which Nigeria now has with the support of WHO.
According to him, Nigeria now has more capacity than it had during the Ebola virus Disease Outbreak. “We now have them and it was recently validated. So now anyone suspected to have coronavirus can be confirmed in country,” Oguanuo said.
In terms of skilled manpower, Oguanuo added that federal government has put in a rapid response team most of whom responded to the Ebola virus.
In addition to this, the federal government has put port health service officers on alert at Points of Entry, he added.
It would be recalled that president Muhammadu Buhari has already approved some N71 million to scale up surveillance at Port health services, while a total of N620 million has been budgeted for the Coronavirus.
Two isolation and treatment facilities have so far been identified in two of the high risk states, Abuja and Lagos. In addition to the NRL in Abuja, LUTH Lagos is also being supported to implement testing. A technical Committee have also been tasked to develop an action plan, all geared towards strengthening the country’s preparedness for any eventuality.
Ifeanyi Nsofor, a public health expert at the Nigerian Health Watch, also corroborated noted that Nigeria’s level of preparedness remains inadequate and not decentralised.
At the moment, Nigeria has only four identified centres for isolation and treatment, namely Teaching hospital, Gwagwalada, National Reference Laboratory (NRL) in Gaduwa, both in Abuja, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, and Mainland Hospital, Yaba Lagos.
Apart from the few available isolation and treatment centres, Nsofor is also worried that only two points of entry – Lagos and Abuja – have a certain level of preparedness in terms of laboratories and isolation facilities, while other points, including Kano, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, PortHacourt, Enugu, Delta and Bayelsa where the Coronavirus can also easily be imported through lack such level of preparedness.
“We have forgotten that we have very porous and extensive land borders. If this virus comes through other borders before we can mount response it will be too late,” he told BusinessDAY.
Nsofor further expressed concern that states and local government are not quite responsive as most of them do not have any preparedness plan or even budget line to respond to any kind of epidemic including Coronavirus.
He however called for an integrated Disease and response approach be adopted to facilitate speedy response to any epidemic at the local and community level.
He said under this approach, there will be community monitors who will report any suspected case of Coronavirus or other viral diseases.
Godsgift Onyedinefu, Abuja