April 2, 2020

COVID-19: Virologist urges FG to expand virus test capacity

Dr. Solomon Chollom, a Jo’s based Virologist, has called on the Federal Government to increase testing capacity for the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak in the country.

Chollom made the appeal in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday in Abuja.

He spoke against the backdrop of revelation by the Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, that Nigeria with a population of about 200 million people was in search of over 5,000 contacts across the country.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Nasarawa imposes 24-hour lockdown on Karu, bans vehicular movement

The expert said that Nigerians cannot rely on the seven testing centers in the country.

“So far,  it will be convenient to say that less than two per cent of Nigerians have been tested for the virus. This is not good in a pandemic of the magnitude we are currently experiencing.

“Also, in view of widespread complaints, it appears that only elites in Nigeria are currently having access to the test.

“Some people have lamented how they have had to try, without success, to test themselves or relatives for the virus due to pressure on the few testing centres,” he said.

The virologist said that with the high rate of transmission of this contagion, a Class A pathogen at that, Nigeria should ordinarily have testing centres in all states of the federation to increase the accessibility of Nigerians for the test for the purpose of ensuring that every infected person was taken to the isolation/treatment centre.

Chollom said that it was by prompt identification and treatment of infected persons that the spread of the contagion would be curbed.

He, however, said that the Federal Government could take up the challenge and establish a Biosafety level IV labs across the country, as a matter of urgency, to save the lives of citizens.

“If China could build a 1,000-bed capacity hospital in a week in the midst of the outbreak, Nigeria can as well build or equip more hospitals within one week to beat this virus down,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said that since the government of Nigeria contemplated the conversion of Gene-Xpert machines for use in testing for COVID-19.

He said that some Nigerians have asked questions to the possibility of the innovation, efficiency of the innovative testing platform and what becomes of the Gene-Xpert machines after COVID-19 pandemic.

“While it is common knowledge that that Gene-Xpert machine was primarily made for the diagnosis of Tuberculosis (TB), it is, however, important to note that the focus of the proposed innovation is the cartridge of the testing gadget.

“The cartridge is like a robot that executes specific instructions for a test menu. Altering it is very possible in this regard as what would be required is to synchronise the COVID-19 test cartridge with the software or the brain box of the machine to accommodate and respond to new testing instructions,” he explained.

READ ALSO: LASEMA comfirms death of six in Epe road accident

In terms of performance and efficiency, he said that this would be determined scientifically at the stage of calibration and validation of the diagnostic output.

“Normally, this is done in parallel with a validated test platform to ensure that test outcomes are consistent and reproducible.

“Where there is an agreement between the outcomes of pre-existing and those of a validated platform, the equipment will be passed for use. It is not about politics, it is science,” he explained.

On whether the machine will become useless in the post-COVID-19 era, Chollom said that this would not be the situation as all that would be required was to re-work the system and adapt it to TB diagnosis.

He noted that if the technology would permit, the machine would eventually become opened for plural diagnosis as against its initial set up which was closed for mono diagnosis of tuberculosis.