Health experts say that the present COVID-19 testing strategy in Nigeria is not revealing the real picture of the spread of the viral pandemic.
They noted that by focusing on testing mostly symptomatic patients, the country was missing out on many more people who are infected but asymptomatic.
They lament that Nigeria is presently incapable of improving its testing capacity, which is still inadequate, adding that the country does not have the resources to expand the needed infrastructure to test millions of Nigerians as so far done in some countries.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in separate interviews, the experts, Public Health Physician and Infectious Disease Expert, Prof. Bayo Onajole; Molecular Pharmaceutical Researcher and Scientist, Prof. Martin Emeje; and Medical Virologist at Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, Dr. Elijah Kolawole, said Nigeria would have to do far better than it is presently doing to get the real picture about the spread of the virus in the country.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the total number of COVID-19 samples so far tested in Nigeria as of 8 December was 1,011,584, in a population of over 200 million.
It has also been confirmed by the NCDC that the country was already experiencing widespread community infection of the viral pandemic, with the agency noting that many of those infected with the virus are asymptomatic.
NCDC says the total number of COVID-19 samples so far tested as of December 8 was 1,011,584, in a population of over 200 million.
Prof. Onajole stated further that the COVID-19 testing done so far may just be a small percentage of those infected with the disease.
“The truth is that the volume of the test done is not giving us the true picture of where we are in this country. The problem is most likely much more than we are seeing.
“I also know that we can do better with the testing. This is because economically Nigeria cannot afford the cost of expanding the testing. We don’t have that resources to undertake it.
“If we ask said more private laboratories should get involved with testing for COVID-19, the challenge is the cost of the test. It is not cheap. It is around 50,000 naira. So, who will pay for the test?
“What we should be doing is an antibody tests to know the level of immunity in our population.
“Unfortunately, the second wave of the disease is here. People are dying, yet many people are still not adhering to safety prevention measures.
“Many people are misbehaving because they are not seeing people dropping dead on the street, so they don’t believe COVID-19 is real.
“The fact is that people are dying but because in this society when people die, we just bury them without finding out the cause. But, I can assure you, people are dying from the disease.
“All our isolation centres are getting filled up and the private sector players that helped during the first wave are down with the economic recession and cannot help.
“The best thing to do for now is to continue with the preventive measures. That is all we have got,” he said.
Prof. Emeje shared the same view with Onajole. He said that the COVID-19 tests done so far in Nigeria is certainly not a reflection of the state of the viral infection in the country, but added that the country does not have the capacity, personnel and infrastructure to expand testing.
The pharmaceutical research scientist with the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, Abuja, however, stressed that the nation’s health sector is in this present state because of long years of neglect.
“The neglect of the health sector and humongous raw stealing over the years is responsible for where we are today. So, it is clearly about the lack of resources and capacity.
“The call to decentralise COVID-19 testing is valid but late. This is because, responsible army buys weapons and train on them during peace, not during wars.
“As a country, we have neglected health infrastructure development including the most important component; research and development.
“I am aware that any health facility with the capacity and capability to handle COVI-19 can seek accreditation from NCDC, so, the problem is surely not about the refusal to decentralize. How do you decentralize what is not there?
“Except you are saying NCDC should build testing laboratories in all the local governments in Nigeria. COVID-19 test is not malaria or pregnancy test that can be done in almost any health facility.
“The appropriate strategy at this time is for the government through NCDC to certify, allow and support by way of subsidy private laboratories with competencies to handle test and/or treatment.
“And when I say government here, I do not refer to federal alone, state and especially local governments must get involve,” he said.
Emeje also stressed the need for Nigerians to adhere to COVID-19 preventive guidelines.
“If everyone keeps strictly to the hygiene protocols of physical distancing, constant washing of hands, wearing of masks and avoiding large gatherings, COVID-19 will not spread,” he said.
Prof. Emeje, however, reiterated that Africans have not fared like Americans and Europeans with COVID-19.
“Whether we like it or not, the effect of COVID-19 on Africans is not the same as on Americans and Europeans, and this is not surprising, because, this is not the first time we are having diseases of varying degrees geographically.
“Does malaria affect Americans and Europeans the way it affects us? Why do we think with other people’s brains? A lot of our decision-makers have a slave mentality, otherwise, by now, we should have known why COVID-19 in Nigeria or Africa is the way it is.
“This is the research we ought to do and answer from this type of study is what helps in planning, not just for the immediate but for future events,” he said.
Also speaking with our correspondent, Dr. Kolawole said main reason the COVID-19 test done so far cannot reflect the spread of the viral disease was because most of the tested population are symptomatic individuals, adding that if asymptomatic individuals are being tested, the figures of those that tested positive will be far more than what has been declared so far.
Kolawole though called for caution with the call to decentralize COVID-19 testing.
He said, “The kind of laboratory and personnel needed for the testing is very crucial, this is not a pregnancy test that can be done by anyone.
“Proper logistics have to be put in place to achieve this such as well-equipped molecular laboratories and personnel.
“The state government should have more testing centres and they should be supported by the Federal Government.
“There should be more private-public partnership as regards the decentralization of testing for COVID-19.”
He also urged Nigerians to continue to adhere to the non-pharmaceutical preventive measures that the government has been publicizing, such as wearing of facemask, regular handwashing with alcohol-based hand sanitiser and avoid the crowd.
According to the World Health Organisations, all nations must continue to “test, test, test” to map the true extent of the outbreak, including identifying hot spots and at-risk populations, and monitor the rate at which the epidemic is spreading.
The global health agency also acknowledges that molecular testing, including point-of-care testing, is neither scalable nor affordable on a large scale, adding that relying solely on centralised testing puts countries at risk
WHO noted that decentralised testing could allow countries to mount an adequate response to the pandemic as they would be able to test, isolate and treat those infected.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
The post Nearly one year on, NCDC tests 1,011,584 COVID-19 samples out of over 200m Nigerians appeared first on Healthwise.