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Nigeria needs policy review on COVID-19 testing

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COVID-19 testing

NIGERIA, like many countries, does not know the exact number of her people infected with COVID-19. What is known is the infection status and number of people that have been tested. Only those tested who returned laboratory-confirmed infections are counted as confirmed cases.

Testing is the window into the burden of the pandemic, and a measure of how fast and widely it is spreading. Without testing, there is no data and without data on who is infected by the virus, there is no way of fully understanding the pandemic and containing it.

The more the number of tests carried out, the more realistic the picture of the pandemic, as well as the effectiveness of the response.

COVID-19 and its second wave is real and spreading fast in Nigeria. The comparatively low number of reported confirmed cases may be misleading.  As of noon Sunday, January 3, 2021, Nigeria had recorded a total of 89,163 confirmed cases and 1,302 deaths.

At an estimated 208.6 million, Nigeria is the seventh most populous country, but has done less than 5,000 tests per one million population. This figure is among the lowest in the world. Brazil, with a comparable population of 213.3 million, is doing 134,000 tests per one million.

The significance of this comes home better when it is considered that less populous African countries are testing more than Nigeria.

Ghana, for instance, with a population of 31.4 million is doing over 21,400 tests per one million. South Africa, with a population of 59.7 million does over 112,000 tests per one million.

Certainly, there are challenges with COVID-19 testing in Nigeria.

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From all indications, Nigeria appears to be recording low figures because it is not testing enough. Data provided by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, NCDC, shows that Nigeria has, in overall, conducted fewer than one million tests – a far cry from Federal Government’s 2020 target. Clearly, a policy review is needed.

With about 100 testing molecular laboratories set up across the country to boost testing capacity, gaining access to testing facilities should be less tedious. Unfortunately, only symptomatic persons are being tested.

In too many instances, accessing the services at testing centres remains challenging. Even persons that meet the testing criteria still have to struggle to gain access.

There are long delays, and results take too long to be processed. These gaps need to be bridged.

Asymptomatic patients too need to be accommodated somehow because they are silent spreaders who hardly get tested and may not be keeping to safety guidelines.

The federal and state governments should consider broader surveillance strategies for detecting infections, and make data on case counts and positivity rates available and as usable as possible.

Admittedly, there is no capacity to test everybody, but Nigerians that meet the criteria for testing should be spared the long delays and other bottlenecks in the cycle of getting tested and obtaining results.

Until the testing capacity is vastly improved, expanded, and utilised, it will be difficult to have a realistic measurement of meaningful testing strategy for the country, and an exact measure of the response impact.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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