Olufemi Atoyebi, Friday Olokor and Tukur Muntari
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on Tuesday said it would target testing two million people in the next three months.
The NCDC DG, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, who said this at the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 media briefing in Abuja, also said it cost between $18 and $20 to test a COVID-19 sample.
According to him, the cost does not include human resources and other expenses.
Ihekweazu said these as the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) sent a team of experts to Kano State on Tuesday barely 24 hours after he imposed two-week total lockdown on the state.
There have been concerns about the COVID-19 cases and the increasing deaths in the state, which the NCDC and the state government are investigating.
But on Tuesday, the NCDC boss said the Federal Government would step up testing in Kano and other states in the country.
He said compared with South Africa, Nigeria was lagging behind in terms of the number of people tested for COVID-19.
Ihekweazu said that it would be impossible to achieve the two million target without huge financial support. He said that to achieve the two million target, at least 50,000 samples must be tested in each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory within the set period.
He said the ban on inter-state movements, which was announced by the President on Monday, would prevent transmission of the virus to areas where cases had not been reported.
Ihekweazu stated, “There are four states where we have not confirmed a single case. Our goal is to avoid a single case in any of those states and to keep them exactly that way.
The director general had on Monday listed Nasarawa, Yobe, Cross River and Kogi as states that had not recorded any COVID-19 case.
But on Tuesday morning, the Nasarawa State Government said the state had recorded a case of the virus.
Admitting that Nigeria was lagging behind in terms of testing, Ihekweazu said, “In order to test two million people in three months, we need to test 50,000 samples per state, depending on population size.”
The NCDC DG said that over the next few weeks, he would be engaging aggressively with all state governments, asking them to work with the PTF in order to increase the capacity to test more people.
Each COVID-19 test costs $20 – NCDC
On the cheaper testing method being developed in Dakar, Senegal, Ihekweazu said that the West African country had always enjoyed the presence of the World Health Organisation and a reference laboratory run by the WHO.
It said the new testing method would only be available by the middle of the year. He, however, said that it would not come as cheap as being said in the media.
He added, “There is a long standing World Health Organisation laboratory in Dakar, Senegal that has been a reference centre for a long time. There is a new testing development that will become available sometime in June or July. It is not available now. All the tests they have done so far (in Senegal) were done using PCR (polymerase chain reaction). There is no way that it (the new testing method) will be available at that price ($1).
“It costs between $18 and $20 to test a COVID-19 sample. This is for reagent alone. We have not put a cost to human resources and other costs.”
Referring to his speech on Monday, when he called on states with low or zero cases to get samples for the NCDC to test, the NCDC DG said that he was only expressing concern about the danger of leaving cases behind without treating them
FG seeks cartridges to use Genexpert tuberculosis diagnosis machines for COVID-19 testing
Also at the briefing, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said that results of tests would begin to come out faster when the Federal Government obtained cartridges to activate its Genexpert machines.
He said, “We shall make arrangements for those who are being tested to be in a holding area until confirmation. We shall be able to solve part of that problem when we get the support for activating Genexpert machines.
“We have applied for support for cartridges that will allow us to use the machines for testing. The result is faster; about 45 minutes to one hour. So the person whose sample is being tested can wait for the result to come out before the necessary action is taken.”
The minister, had earlier this month at a PTF press briefing on coronavirus, said the 300 Genexpert machines used for tuberculosis diagnosis would be converted to testing COVID-19.
The health minister said that the Nigerian Army had agreed to support isolation centres with security as the need arose.
On the Chinese medical experts who had been in quarantine since arriving in Nigeria, Ehanire said that they were tested for COVID-19 and found to be negative.
He also reiterated the need for health workers to be cautious when handling COVID-19 samples. He also warned them against carrying out COVID-19 treatment in secret.
He said, “As for the case of the 40 health workers that were infected, we have always warned that health workers must use their personal protective equipment. If you are not trained in infection control, this COVID-19 is not for you.
“It is really risky to underrate the infectiousness of this virus. It is not malaria or any viral illness that we know. Any other person who is doing treatment either privately or secretly is doing so at his own risk and at the risk of the public.”
Social distancing achieves limited success
The minister expressed the concern that the social distancing policy of government had not yielded the desired result. He called on Nigerians to abide by government directive.
He said, “The highly propagated social measures like distancing and postponement of all non-essential travel have had only limited success. There must, therefore, also be a reminder that we need to redouble our efforts to comply with advisories, more especially as restrictions have been eased. Much more stringent compliance will be required.”
US pledges ventilators as Buhari speaks to Trump
The United States has promised to send ventilators to support Nigeria in its fight against the COVID 19 pandemic.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at the PTF briefing, disclosed that the US President, Donald Trump, made the promise when he had a telephone conversation earlier on Tuesday with Buhari.
Muhammed said Trump also extended its best regards to the people of Nigeria in the fight against the pandemic.
He stated “President Muhammadu Buhari today (Tuesday) had a phone conversation with President Donald Trump, at the request of the American President. The conversation centred on Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“President Buhari used the opportunity to brief the American President on the steps that Nigeria is taking to contain the spread of the disease.
“For his part, President Trump assured that the United States is in solidarity with Nigeria in this difficult time and promised to send ventilators to support the country in its fight against the pandemic. President Trump also extends his best regards to the people of Nigeria.”
Ventilator, which are machines that pump air in and out of the lungs, are needed to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients, who suffer from severe respiratory symptoms.
Trump had on Friday said the US would sell ventilators to developing countries to fight the coronavirus.
Trump, who spoke on the telephone to the presidents of Indonesia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Honduras, had promised that the US would send the vital medical equipment.
“We will be sending them desperately needed ventilators, of which we have recently manufactured many, and helping them in other ways,” Trump wrote on twitter about his call to President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador.
As of Monday, Nigeria had 1,337 cases of COVID-19, with 255 patients discharged while 40 people had died of the virus.
But the National Coordinator, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, had at a press briefing by the World Economic Forum/World Health Organisation, last week said Nigeria had 450 ventilators.
He said before the outbreak of the virus, Nigeria had 350 ventilators, adding that 100 more had been acquired.
China has donated to Nigeria 1,500 N95 respirators; 4,750 protective clothings; 4,750 goggles; 850 infrared thermometers; 130,000 surgical masks; 9750 medical gloves and 9,750 medical shoes covers.
Buhari dispatches COVID-19 team to Kano, as five more prominent people die
Meanwhile, the President on Tuesday sent a team to Kano State as part of efforts to contain COVID-19 cases in the state.
The team met with state Governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, on the directive of Buhari.
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor, Abba Anwar, in a statement, said the team was led by Dr Sani Gwarzo and that they met with Ganduje at the Africa House, Government House, Kano.
Besides Gwarzo, others in the committee are a former Director General of the NCDC, Prof Abdussalam Nasidi, and the Head of the Department of Health Services at the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Bimpe Adebiyi.
According to the statement by Anwar, Gwarzo said the team members were in Kano to find out what the state needed to contain COVID-19.
He added, “President Buhari directed us to do everything possible to support, reinforce and mobilise support even beyond the nation.
“Your Excellency in the special committee sent to Kano to work with the state government are experts in public health and other areas.
“In the special committee there are people like Prof Abdussalam Nasidi, the pioneer Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Contre, who is a professor of infectious diseases.
“There is also Dr Bimpe Adebiyi, who heads the Department of Health Services at the Federal Ministry of Health.”
In his remarks, Ganduje thanked Buhari for coming to the aid of the state . He restated his earlier call for more testing centres in the state, saying, “a testing centre is the nucleus of the fight against COVID-19.”
Nasidi, on his part, said the team was in Kano to reinforce already existing structures in the state.
In a related development, the unusual deaths, especially among the elite and prominent people in Kano, continued on Tuesday.
Those who died included, Alhaji Uba Adamu, the father of the Vice Chancellor of the National Open University, Prof Abdullah Adamu. He died in the early hours of Tuesday.
Also, a spiritual leader of the Murtala Mohammed Central Mosque in Kano, Sheik Tijjani Yola, has also died.
A family source told The PUNCH in Kano on Tuesday that the renowned cleric died in the early hours of the day.
The source said, “He passed away at his residence in the Gwale area in Kano in the early hours of today and was laid to rest around 9am.”
According to the source, the death of Sheik Yola has left a big vacuum as he was managing one of the largest mosques in the city.
A former Speaker of the Jigawa state House of Assembly, Adamu Sarawa, died on Monday of undisclosed ailment.
Also, a former chairperson of the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria, Kano State chapter, Hajiya Halima Shittu, also lost her life.
Shittu was said to have died at her residence at the NNDC Quarters on Tuesday morning and had since been buried in accordance with Islamic rites.
A lecturer at the Department of Architecture, Kano University of Science and Technology (KUST), Wudil, Dr Ghali Umar, died three days ago.
The Public Relations Officer of the university, Mallam Abdullahi Abdullahi confirmed the death of lecturer to The PUNCH in Kano on Tuesday.
He said the deceased had since been buried in accordance with the Islamic rites.
Residents have continued to entertain fears as the unusual deaths continue amidst the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
As of Tuesday, Kano has recorded 77 cases of COVID-19.
The NCDC testing centre at the Aminu Kano Testing Hospital which was closed down about a week ago, has resumed operation.
A top government official, who did not want his name mentioned, confirmed the development to The PUNCH in Kano on Tuesday.
“The centre resumes operation today (Tuesday) but don’t quote me because we have been directed to stop talking to the press. We should allow the task force to talk to press.”
According to the official, the centre which resumed testing would go a long way in reducing the trouble of taking samples to Abuja for testing.