…As FG continues with Hydroxychloroquine trials; says Nigeria has something to offer
…Worried over improper disposal of used PPE; asks states to accept their realities
… 75 percent of infections not traceable; lockdown open to further review
By Omeiza Ajayi
No fewer than 812 health workers, including 29 staff of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, on the frontline in the fight against
COVID-19 have tested positive for the virus.
The Director-General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Iheakwazu, disclosed this at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
“We have had 812 health workers infected. They are not just numbers. 29 of these work with NCDC. They are people I know. Eight of them right now are in Idu Treatment Centre. They are people and they matter.
“Crossing that 10,000 mark was quite a significant event. Every night, we work to bring out those numbers, sometimes numbers begin to feel like what they are; you forget that there are people behind each number.
‘’So, it is very important for us to remember that these are people. At NCDC, we engage with these people every day.
“At the moment 75 per cent of people have unknown sources of their illness. It means community transmission is happening. This is normal of a respiratory virus which 80 per cent of people are asymptomatic.
“We now have the third-highest number of confirmed cases on the continent, after South Africa and Egypt. We have increased our testing capacity. We have now tested over 65,000 samples. 60 percent of our cases are in 20 local government areas.”
In his presentation, chairman of the Task Force, and Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha, alongside Health Minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the Federal Government would again defy directives by the World Health Organization, WHO to suspend the clinical trial of Hydroxychloroquine, saying the trials would continue because Nigeria has something to offer to the body of knowledge.
He also expressed concerns over the improper disposal of Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, used in managing COVID-19 cases in the country, saying the development constituted a great danger to the nation.
He equally announced that the PTF was monitoring developments both locally and internationally, and that its current containment protocols were open to further review.
While government conceded that the country has not reached its testing capacity due to issues regarding collection of samples, it however, urged state governors to accept the reality of the incursion of COVID-19 into their states.
It said in spite of its relaxation of its protocols on worship houses, it is still better and safer for Nigerians to worship at home.
Vanguard recalls that the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, had last week said it would also continue with the trials.
Speaking on Tuesday during the PTF briefing, Dr. Ehanire said the trials would continue because the Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee has assured him that “Nigeria has something to offer.”
He said: “A few weeks ago, I announced that Nigeria will participate in COVID-19 drug trial, which the WHO was leading but partly suspended.
‘’After consultations with top Nigerian scientists of the Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee, I am advised that Nigeria has something to add to the body of knowledge around these trials.
“I have, therefore, approved continuation of the trial, as recommended, under strong precautionary conditions to be built into it. The Leadership of the Ministry also had the first briefing with the Ministerial Advisory Panel of Experts yesterday, led by foremost virologist, Prof. Tomori, and received a series of very useful advisories that will be discussed and shared with heads of agencies and Departments of the Ministry.”
Citing safety concerns, WHO had last Monday, announced the temporary suspension of the clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
It said it took the decision following reports of a study in a medical journal, The Lancet that the drug could increase the likelihood of deaths in Covid-19 cases.
“The Executive Group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity Trial while the data is reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board,” WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, had said.
Unreached testing target
Ehanire also disclosed that though the increased number of cases in the country could be attributed to rising community transmission and expanding laboratory network, Nigeria has still not reached its testing target.
“The expanding laboratory and testing capacity all over Nigeria and growing community transmission rate both contribute to the increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases we are observing in recent days.
‘’We have nevertheless not reached our testing targets as yet and, therefore, ask all persons who fit the case definition of fever, cough, sore throat, loss of sense of smell or taste to first use a mask or face covering and find the nearest testing center.
‘’Those testing positive should report to the nearest treatment facility in the interest of self- preservation. We shall include it in our social mobilization and community engagement messaging,” he said.
Ehanire said the ministry was working with the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, to finalize plans on engagement of existing community volunteers and agents to conduct house to house sensitization on COVID-19 at community level, especially in the 20 high burden local government areas in Nigeria.
Accept your reality
In a veiled reference to Kogi State which has continued to dispute the two index cases recorded in the state by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, the minister asked states to accept their current reality.
“COVID-19 is a global phenomenon affecting nearly all parts of the world. All nations are working together and I urge all state authorities in Nigeria to accept the reality and work with each other and Federal Government, and play their part in the strategy to keep the people safe.
‘’This includes the decentralization that requires making a minimum of 300 Isolation beds ready, so that the national health system does not run out of COVID-19 bed spaces. As the President has advised, it is best to be fully prepared, even if you didn’t have to use it.
“In this regard, the Federal Ministry of Health stands ready to support all states in their efforts to build resilient and responsive systems for citizens in their states. The FCT, for example, is no longer under bed space pressure, having been well supported with assets to meet all levels of care, security and needs.
‘’There will, therefore, be no reason for a COVID-19 positive person to be outside a designated isolation and treatment centre, especially with the ThisDay Dome Isolation centre ready to take cases. It will be headed in the introductory phase by the Medical Director of Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, one of the most experienced virus disease hospitals in Nigeria. The FCT managed Idu COVID treatment centre with 500 beds is also ready.
“We continue to advocate for states to strengthen their response activities and have begun a programme to strengthen the capacity of all federal health institutions in Nigeria to deal with COVID-19 challenges in their states by additional training, supplies and equipment.
“Federal Medical Centre Lokoja and University of Calabar Teaching Hospital will be prioritized for deployment of Gene Xpert machines as soon as the test kits are validated by the Medical Laboratory Science Council, so that citizens in Kogi and Cross River State, among others, will no longer have shortage of opportunity to be tested. Our observation is that states are at varying levels of readiness and it is important to re-strategize to meet all citizens at their points of need”, Ehanire stated.
According to him, the ministry has conducted an analysis of Health Care Worker Infections and identified critical areas for targeted intervention, to include continuous updates and retraining, adding that more than 13, 000 health workers have been trained, which will result in reduced rate of infection, especially in the line of duty.
Disposal of used PPEs
The SGF on his part, spoke of the inherent dangers in the improper disposal of used Personal Protective Equipment and urged health workers to follow the relevant guidelines in discarding such PPEs.
“Shortly after the briefing of 1st June, 2020, the social media was trending with the photograph of two children wearing discarded PPEs (although it is not certain if the photograph was taken in Nigeria). Significantly, that photograph represents a dangerous development. It underscores the need for more risk communication, community engagement and diligence in the disposal of used PPEs on the part of our frontline workers and the administrators. It also underscores the need to broaden the theme and messages in our communication strategy.
“Above all, the photograph has left us to imagine what the impact would be, if schools were to be open and they attended school after being exposed so dangerously. Those three children represent a clear danger to themselves, family and the immediate community.
“While we take remedial measures to reach out to medical institutions on this, I use this opportunity to call on all our health authorities to make sure that waste disposal is done in such a way that would not create opportunities for increasing the chances of spreading the virus,” Mustapha said.
He said the PTF is conscious of the fact that there is a high possibility of members of the public seeing the easing of the lockdown as a signal that COVID-19 is gone, adding that on the contrary, “COVID-19 is still virulent, dangerous and infectious. Our lives have changed for good and will never revert to what we used to know.”
Mustapha added that the government has the option of reviewing the current eased lockdown should the need arises.
He said: “As we have always maintained, the fight against this pandemic is not a joke and because the science, data and experiences that drive our National Response are constantly evolving, we urge all citizens to religiously implement applicable guidelines at specific phases of the battle.”
On his part, National Coordinator of the Taskforce, Dr Sani Aliyu said the PTF will review its ban interstate transportation as soon as domestic flights resume in the country.
He said there is no doubt that it is safer to stay and worship at home but that the PTF has issued its current guidelines on the restricted opening of worship centres in the event that some Nigerians cannot fully perform their religious obligations without going to such centres.
On interstate movement, he said; “We have to crawl before we run. We are sorting out domestic flights first. We have given a timeline. When we said June 21, as I said yesterday, we did not say all planes will certainly be up in the sky on that day.
“We are giving the aviation industry the next three weeks to get their acts together and to prepare and once they do, they can get in contact with us. And, if everything is okay, we will give them the go ahead anytime from June 21.
“If they come back to us in a week’s time and say they are ready, then they are on their own of course, but what we are saying is that we have given them three weeks to prepare. After that, any time beyond those three weeks, we can sign off if they are ready and as I said yesterday, you cannot have inter-state restrictions and allow domestic flights. The two do not match. So, where we review and allow domestic flights, we will have to review the restrictions on inter-state movement as well and that will be done.’’
In his presentation, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said the country would do everything possible to evacuate its nationals in India wishing to return home.
He, however, said the process could not be done until the new policy of taking their samples at the point of arrival took off.
“I can only but offer profound regrets and apologies for that situation and I really hope that very soon, the mechanism will be up and running as quickly as possible and we will be able to bring our compatriots in India as quick as possible,” he stated.