The Federal Government may be able to increase its weekly COVID-19 testing by 9,100 following its readiness to repurpose the tuberculosis GeneXpert machines already deployed in all the states and the Federal Capital Territory, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in its ‘National Strategy to Scale Up Access to Coronavirus Disease Testing in Nigeria’ posted on its website noted that the objective of planning to repurpose the tuberculosis machines were to decentralise and speed up testing across the country and strengthen national surveillance for COVID-19.
In the document, the NCDC explained that the country has 407 GeneXpert instruments deployed in 399 health facilities across the country, for use as first-line testing for TB diagnosis. It, however, noted that the United States-based Food and Drug Administration had granted the manufacturer, Cepheid, Emergency Use Authorisations for the use of the instruments and specially designed cartridge in testing for COVID-19.
The NCDC, which is the coordinating agency for the COVID-19 response in the country, said given that “every state of the federation including the FCT has at least five GeneXpert sites, at least one site in each state will be repurposed for COVID-19 testing.”
It noted that with the GeneXpert machines, each of which could test 24 samples daily, it is targeting 1,300 tests per day with ability to return test results same day, and since the NCDC conducts tests every day of the week, Nigeria could therefore increase its weekly testing by 9,100.
The NCDC added, “There are also available in-country two mobile laboratories equipped with two GeneXpert instruments each. These will be deployed as needed to support COVID-19 testing surge in target states.
“The planned decentralised testing using GeneXpert will enable states to test low volume samples (1–24 samples daily) with same day return of results, while bulk samples will be referred to the Central/Regional PCR Laboratories as elucidated above. This will increase the country’s testing capacity by additional 1,300 tests per day.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said at the briefing by the Presidential task Force on COVID-19 on Friday that government envisaged a steady rise in the number of cases with “more diligent testing, treatment, isolation and (contact) tracing.”
He added that in the use of the GeneXpert machines, the government would prioritise Sokoto and Borno states as soon as the cartridges begin to arrive in a few weeks.
He said, “A Federal Ministry of Health team has been assembled to proceed to Sokoto and Borno on fact-finding and support missions to engage with state authorities and determine material and technical needs.
“A most immediate probability is the prioritisation of these states for the deployment of repurposed GeneXpert machines as soon as we start receiving the cartridges in a few weeks to bring speed to testing.”
Speaking on the index case in Benue State, Ehanire said the government was able to persuade Mrs Susan Idoko-Okpe to allow her test sample to be taken to the laboratory for testing on Thursday and that the result was being awaited, noting that it would be given to her in person.
He said the annual World Health Assembly held every year in Geneva, Switzerland would begin on Monday through teleconference and he would lead the Nigerian delegation to the conference, which he said would focus on the global spread and response to COVID-19.
On the issue of foreign medical doctors, Ehanire noted that the government had not allowed Nigerians to be treated by any foreign national.
Cases rise to 5,445
The NCDC on Friday disclosed that Nigeria recorded 288 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the country to 5,445. The number of deaths rose to 171 while the number of those discharged rose to 1,320.
“The 288 new cases are reported from 15 states – Lagos(179), Kaduna (20), Katsina (15), Jigawa(15), Borno (13), Ogun(11), Kano(8), FCT(7), Niger (4), Ekiti(4), Oyo (3), Delta (3), Bauchi(3), Kwara (2), Edo(1).”
The NCDC also apologised for making errors in its announcement on Thursday, adding, “On the 14th of May, four cases reported from Plateau and one case from Akwa Ibom, were repeat cases. Therefore, Plateau has a total of 21 cases and Akwa Ibom has a total of 16 cases.”
Task force asks hospitals to treat non-COVID-19 patients
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 also directed hospitals to treat non-COVID-19 patients to avoid unnecessary deaths in the county.
The PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, at the briefing said governors should ensure the health services continued in their states as stated in the protocol.
He said, “We have also noticed a marked reduction in the delivery of non-COVID-19 related services in our hospitals. The Minister of Health had on several occasions implored our health institutions not to jeopardise offering critical health services to patients who require attention.
“The PTF wishes to reiterate this call and request that health service providers should help relieve the burden of diseases in the country by offering the required services.
“As of present, records show that we may be experiencing more unnecessary deaths because our hospitals are turning back non-COVID-19 related patients.”
He also revealed that N792,121,613.89 had been credited into the Federal Government COVID-19 Eradication Support Accounts from various in-country sources, while thanking the donors, including those who donated N1.
Mustapha explained that the account domiciled in the office of the Accountant General of the Federation was different from those operated by the Coalition Against COVID-19, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Partners, as well as the United Nations One Basket Fund with support from international donor partners.
“These are the three major contributors to the response and none of them fall under the control of the Federal Government,” he added.
On the fund in the AGF’s office, Mustapha said it was not under the control of the PTF.
“It is managed by the AGF. Ours is when we need money for our work, we place a budget and a requisition, and the money is provided. We don’t control the accounts for all these contributions. Money is released to us on a need basis,” he said.
Mustapha commended the security agencies for ensuring the security of lives and property; Lagos chapter of the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria for making hotels available for use as isolation centres and some airlines such as Dana Air, AERO Contractors and Bristow Helicopters which provided support for the movement of logistics and supplies.
PTF warns against self medication, says private hospitals not allowed to treat COVID-19 victims
The SGF also urged Nigerians to avoid self-medication, stating that treating symptoms should not be mistaken as treating the virus.
He said, “We should always remember that the symptoms of COVID-19 mimics some illnesses we already know but treating the symptoms is not the same as treating the virus and for this reason, we strongly discourage self-medication.
“We shall continue to encourage all Nigerians that feel the symptoms to go for testing and if positive, go to the isolation centres for care by experts. We still discourage management of this infectious disease by private hospitals due to the risk of infection.”
Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, two others participating in WHO clinical trial – PTF
Meanwhile, the SGF said five states in the country were participating in the ongoing World Health Organisation-coordinated clinical trial to discover a cure.
The five states are Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Ogun and Sokoto.
“At the end of this, relevant health authorities will make statements on acceptable drugs for treating the COVID-19,” he said.
The PTF also called for caution on claims of local herbal cure for the virus trending on the social media, saying such claims had not been validated by relevant government agencies.
‘The PTF remains firmly supportive of the development of a cure for this disease. However, we must follow laid down protocols,” he added.
…cautions governors against lifting lockdown
The PTF also urged states lifting restrictions allowing for a large congregation of people to weigh their consequences in relation to creating opportunities for more seeding of the virus thereby negating gains already made.
He advised that such decision should be informed by empirical evidence of progress made, noting that the task force would submit its report to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), for the next decision.
Also, the National Coordinator of the task force, Dr Sani Aliyu, lamented that stigmatisation was a major setback to the fight against the pandemic. He warned that stigmatisation could lead to fear and refusal of persons with COVID-19 to seek medical care.
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, has said that private sector laboratories may charge for carrying out tests for coronavirus.
He said the important thing was for the labs to share the data on the number of people tested with the Federal Government, noting that the reason why the number of tests in South Africa was high was because private sector labs were ready to carry out molecular testing prior to the pandemic.
He added, “A big constituency that we are looking at how to bring in are the private sector labs. We have nothing against private sector labs supporting the testing. We’ve had very few applications, maybe one or two. What we’re now trying to do is define those guidelines, to put them up on our website. Once a private sector lab is able to do the complete package of testing the biosafety, by all means, we want them to go ahead and, if they want to charge, all well and good.”
Speaking on the enforcement of the use of face masks by members of the public, the NCDC boss urged Nigerians to self-enforce.
Kwara foils attempted escape from isolation centre
On Friday, the intelligence network of the Kwara State Government said it uncovered a plot by some COVID-19 patients who sneaked into the state to escape. It said the attempt was promptly foiled leading to the arrest and return of the patients who had already scaled the fence.
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRasaq, Rafiu Ajakaye, in a statement said the government was dismayed that such persons were among the imported cases who intentionally violated the interstate lockdown and came into the state.
“Security has been further beefed up at our isolation centre. The government restates that COVID-19 is not a death sentence and there is no reason why anyone would want to escape and put their own lives and the lives of other people at risk,” he added.
FG pledges enforcement of interstate travel ban
The Minister of Interior, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, has also assured of an effective enforcement of the interstate travel ban in the coming weeks.
He stated that the police had been given a marching order to stop the movement of unauthorised persons, particularly Almajirai, who had been caught travelling in trucks across the country.
He said, “There are challenges, it has not been as perfect and effective as we planned, but it would get better. In the next few weeks, we would see a lot of improvement in the effectiveness of movement control, restriction enforcement on our highways.”
Why returning Nigerians have to pay – Onyeama
Meanwhile, addressing complaints about the directives that returning Nigerians from abroad must pay N290,000 for their isolation and feeding ahead of evacuation, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said the government had no resources to foot the bill.
He explained that the citizens could not be housed at the National Youth Service orientation camps or school dormitories because each person had to be accommodated in a room and the only option was to keep them in hotels, noting that the best room rate in Abuja was N15,000.
The FG had on Thursday directed all its embassies not to airlift any Nigerian who did not pay for his quarantine and feeding ahead of the evacuation.
But addressing the development, the minister stated, “This is not by any stretch of imagination something the government is happy to do. As I mentioned, if the resources were there, we would evacuate everybody.”
He explained that 620 persons had been evacuated and quarantined, adding that the government was expending resources in managing them.
250 nurses/midwives in isolation, 85 positive, NANNM laments
Also on Friday, the leadership of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives decried the rising cases of health workers testing positive for coronavirus in the country.
The President of the association, Mr Abdurafiu Adeniji, spoke in Abuja at a press conference to commemorate the 2020 International Nurses Week entitled, ‘Nurses: A Voice to Lead-Nursing the World to Health’.
He said data from the NANNM COVID-19 Situation Report Room revealed that “Almost 1,000 nurses and midwives have been exposed to coronavirus, out of which about 250 are currently on isolation and about 85 out of about 600 have tested positive.
“Over 2,000 Nigerian healthcare professionals, especially nurses and doctors have tested positive to COVID-19 while about 15 healthcare professionals have lost their lives.”
He attributed the rising cases of coronavirus infection among nurses and midwives to the lack of adequate knowledge on how to use Personal Protective Equipment while attending to infected patients.
He said the nation’s health care system had been overstretched and on the verge of being overwhelmed, while calling on health workers to pay attention to their personal safety while attending to COVID-19 patients.
“The WHO prescription is 40 nurses per 100,000 population, but Nigeria is operating five to six nurses to 100,000 population,” he added.
Intervene in Kogi, Cross River obstruction to NCDC, NMA tells Buhari
The Nigerian Medical Association has called on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to urgently intervene in the inability of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to carry out COVID-19 tests in Kogi and Cross River states.
The association described the situation as unfortunate and condemnable.
The governments of Kogi and Cross River states had insisted that they would quarantine for 14 days the NCDC members of staff to be deployed in their states to carry out the test.
The NMA in a statement signed by the President, Dr Francis Faduyile, and the Secretary General, Dr Olumuyiwa Odusote, on Friday, pointed out that the NCDC was empowered by law to control activities and programmes for the national response against infectious diseases and public health emergencies.
The association also said the revamping of abandoned General Hospitals and Primary Health Care Centres would mitigate the challenges with home treatment and acute shortage of bed spaces.
14,000 test kits arrive Lagos airport amid scarcity
A total of 14,000 units of test kits on Friday arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos amid the prevailing scarcity in the country.
The private sector-led Coalition Against COVID-19 had last month ordered for 400,000 units of test and extraction kits to fast-track molecular testing for the deadly coronavirus.
Scarcity of test kits had slowed down testing in Lagos, Abuja and some other parts of the country.
Officials of COVID-19 told Saturday PUNCH that 14,000 units of test kits arrived the country and were cleared at the Lagos airport on Friday, adding that the 14,000 kits would be handed over to the NCDC on Saturday (today).
The Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe, who is a member of the private sector-led coalition, confirmed the development to one of our correspondents.
He said the 14,000 units of test kits were part of the 400,000 units recently ordered by CACOVID-19.
Benue COVID-19 index case threatens legal action
The COVID-19 index case in Benue State, Mrs Susan Idoko-Okpe, has threatened to institute a legal action against the Federal Government and its relevant agencies unless she is released from isolation centre where she says she has been detained for 53 days.
She issued the threat through her lawyer, Mr Stephen Eke, who addressed a press conference in Abuja on Friday.
Eke who insisted that his client had not tested positive for COVID-19, contended that her alleged continued detention at the isolation centre was a violation of her fundamental human rights.
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