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Akwa Ibom and the COVID-19 test results story

Dispute over COVID-19 test results in Akwa Ibom illustrates the apparent lack of coordination and portends great and immediate danger in the management of the unfolding pandemic.

Since the outbreak of the global pandemic, things have not been the same again in many countries of the world. Its spread and devastation have taken many countries unawares and unprepared. From social life to the economy, from transportation to inter-state trade, things have come to a standstill.

When the first case was reported in Nigeria, it was greeted with apprehension and anxiety and as days go by and it began to spread to many states with all the geopolitical zones fairly represented. Apart from the lockdown announced by many states which includes the restriction of movement and in many cases, closure of inter-state borders, healthcare professionals have been stretched “beyond the limit of their elasticity.”

So, as many states of the federation began to record cases of CONVID-19, many believe it was only a matter of before it would hit Akwa Ibom State and it came with a bang. Five cases were confirmed in a go and this generated much anxiety and hopelessness among the people.

Before the announcement by the National Centre for Disease Control that five persons had tested positive for COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom State, there had been calls for a lockdown of the state, which many thought would have presented the ‘entry of the disease’ to the state and this was ignored.

Soon after, the governor made a broadcast in which he outlined steps taken to curtail the spread which were seen as not being far reaching enough and most significantly, there has a squabble between health professionals targeting the commissioners for health and information directly and indirectly taking an aim at the governor. All this were a pointed to the state of healthcare service in the state.

According to the health professionals, they were irked by the risk they had to take while in the line of their duty in the treatment of COVID-19 cases, the poor state of medical facilities particularly the absence of adequate number of life saving ventilators as well as the non-payment of salary to newly recruited doctors for an upward of six months. In fact, things got to a head that the State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association had to threaten a strike over the contending issues.

“We shall continue to monitor our resolution. Where Dominic Ukpong, the commissioner for health decides to do otherwise, we may be forced to pull out our members from coronavirus duties while we continue to render other forms of health services. This is especially as Dominic Ukpong has successfully convinced us that he is capable of fighting coronavirus alone,’’ the health professionals said in a statement.

After the disagreement between the health professionals and the state government had dragged for days, truce was finally achieved when the two parties resolved to settle their differences and work to check the spread of the disease in the state.

Observers say the damage may have already been done while it lasted, adding that they might have tactfully withdrawn their support to the health commissioner who they had accused of not involving them on measures being taken by the state government to curb the spread of COVID-19.

So, it was no surprise that when NCDC announced the test results of five samples from the state confirming them to be positive for COVID-19, the health commissioner quickly issued a statement rejecting the test result. The foundation had been laid for the disagreement and it came sooner than expected.

Many people in the state who have expressed worry over the development said it showed a lack of focus among healthcare managers with the commissioner for health taking most of the blame as expected.

According to the statement issued by the health commissioner, Dominic Ukpong, the state government only heard about the test results in the news, adding that “all five reported cases have been contacted and they have showed no symptoms of COVID-19.’’

The statement did not help matters; it fell flat in the face of the confusion that had greeted the announcement of the five cases in the state. In many ways, it added to the anxiety and the people became infuriated and demanded further explanation on what had really transpired. The NCDC stood its grounds and maintained that the procedure was transparent while the test was conducted at the Iruwa specialist hospital in Edo State where they have collaboration in the use of their laboratory facilities. This had left the people in doubt about who to believe, thus throwing more confusion into the pandemic. The dispute and controversy over the test results have yet to be laid to rest in the state until the governor stepped into the fray.

However, a broadcast by Governor Udom Emmanuel that same day according to many residents finally put paid to the dispute. Not only did he confirm the test results, he gave an indication how the five persons got infected.

“The confirmed cases who are mostly healthcare professionals are in good health and have so far presented no symptoms. However, they have been moved to the isolation centres for proper management and the process of contact tracing has begun, to identify those who they may have been exposed to.

“To enable this process to be carried out effectively, I am hereby announcing a complete cessation of movement in the state extended to period of 14 days. There will be no movement of persons, except those on essential duties who must carry a proper means of identification on them at all times,” the governor said in his broadcast.

From the denial by the health commissioner and the confirmation from the governor, it shows clearly the discrepancy in the fight against COVID-19 an indication that all is not well in the sector and most importantly in the preparation and management of the coronavirus cases. It is the view expressed by many that the disagreement has exposed the under belly of the healthcare delivery and shows poor coordination and lack of cooperation in the sector.

Furthermore, it tends to indicate that the dispute between the health workers and the commissioner may not have been fully settled. It is believed that if the commissioner had enjoyed the support of the health professionals, it would have been impossible for the test results to have been made public without his knowledge.

With the release of the confirmed cases in the state, it has now dawned on the people that it is no longer a time for living in denial of the virus as exhibited by the commissioner’s statement but it is their responsibility to comply with the guidelines on how to stay safe and beat COVID-19, part of which is the stay-at-home order and the total lockdown of the state. Similarly, the government officials have a duty to be sincere in the management of COVID-19 cases in order to enjoy public confidence.

Though the governor has announced a lockdown of the state to take effect immediately as part of steps taken to curb the spread, groups and individuals including the Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO) in the state have appealed for a period of grace for the people to stockpile their basic needs that would last for the next 14 days.

According to Franklyn Isong, chairman of the group while supporting the decision of the state government to announce a total lockdown to take effect same day to curb the spread of the disease, he said the order should have come with a prior notice of 24 or 48 hours to ensure adequate preparation by the people.

“The governor should consider our prayers so that Akwa Ibom people and its residents can use the short period of the notice to stock up, make necessary arrangements and get themselves prepared for the total lockdown of the state,’’ it stated.

The pandemic has taken the global community by storm and left thousands of people across the world in a state of devastation, the impact on human lives can hardly be quantified and the cost to the economy is better imagined according to observers.

In Akwa Ibom State, it should not be the time for a blame-game, disputing test results and giving out untruthful information about the pandemic, rather it should be an opportunity for all, including the healthcare professionals to work together to defeat the pandemic which has left in its wake a trail of tears and agony.

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