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FG fails to explore testing options — Experts

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coronavirus…Say Nigeria risks widespread infection
…Adds, Teaching hospitals, FMCs can be upgraded as testing centres

By Chioma Obinna & Gabriel Olawale

Despite the continued rise in cases of coronavirus disease in Nigeria, the Federal Government has failed to upgrade or explore other laboratory testing options across the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.

Available information showed that till date, Nigeria can only boast of six medical laboratory centres that have the capacity to test for COVID-19.

Of the six laboratory centres, two are in Lagos, one in Abuja, one in Ogun, one in Osun, and one in Edo, while 32 states have no testing centres.

However, medical experts have expressed fears that with a total of 97 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as at March 28, 2020, if Nigeria fails to upgrade diagnostic centres in its 70 Teaching Hospitals, 22 Federal Medical Centres, FMCs, and over 20,000 General and Specialist Hospitals, the country risked a spread of the disease in communities.

Although, the World Health Organisation, WHO, placed emphasis on aggressive testing as the only way to manage the pandemic, experts say testing for COVID-19 had been a privileged opportunity.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Okowa orders closure of all schools in Delta

According to the national situation report published by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, as at  midnight on March 26, only 846 people have been screened for COVID-19 in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Director-General of NCDC, Dr Chike Ihekwazu, said the centre was working hard to expand testing capacity for COVID-19.

He said: “We aim to scale up to 13 labs in the next three weeks. In progress are Abakaliki, Maiduguri, Kano, Sokoto, Port-Harcourt, Jos and Kaduna.”

In an exclusive interview with Vanguard, a renowned Medical Laboratory Scientist and Molecular Diagnostic expert, Dr Ifeanyi Casmir, said no country in the world could curtain an outbreak without adequate laboratories.

Noting that what the Federal Government had done so far was no strategic response but a reactionary approach, Casmir said:  “If Nigeria does not rightly respond, it may not be able to tackle the challenge posed by the pandemic.

“With the teleguiding testing, we still have the number rising day by day, imagine if the testing is scaled-up, made available and accessible.This is possible with the kind of support we have received from the private sector and individuals so far.

“We need to scale up testing, identify those positive, categorise them and treat them so that the disease burden will be ameliorated.  All the countries that kept the disease low have used testing as tools to slow the spread of the disease.”

Similarly, the National Chairman and College Vice President, West African College of Physicians, Prof Abel Onunu, described the outbreak in Nigeria as self-inflicted, noting that the country could have prevented the importation of the virus by strict quarantine and testing of incoming travellers.

Stressing that Nigeria needed to urgently scale-up testing, Prof. Onunu said:  “This will involve setting up more testing centres, some of the equipment used for testing HIV such as the PCR machines in many teaching hospitals could be reconfigured to do this.”


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