COVID-19: PTF Raises the Alarm over Low Testing by Nigerians 

*Dr. Osagie Ehanire...Nigeria's minister of health
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By Our Reporter

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has raised alarm over the  reduction of sample collection and testing for COVID-19 in the states which account low number of confirmed cases in recent time.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said this on Monday at the national briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.

According to him, testing has dropped quite significantly, due to reduced sample collection across many states, but the  reasons are not clear in all cases.

The minister said that one state, for example, tested over 35 thousand in July and just under 20 thousand in August, while another state dropped from 23 thousand in July to just under four thousand in August.

“These are just examples that show that there is more work to do and many more challenges ahead. There is reason to worry that in states facing election, campaign activities throw caution to the wind and COVID-19 infection increases dramatically, while testing may decline due to frustration.

“I urge authorities in these states to remember the risks of crowding and ensure that government workers can do their work unhindered. I shall commission a study group of the Ministerial Experts Advisory Committee to begin processes to examine this development and bring up new knowledge which can guide response or may have an implication on government decision making,” Ehanire said.

The minister noted that: “In the past 24 hours, we recorded just 138 COVID-19 positive cases in Nigeria, one of the lowest numbers in many months, giving a total of 53,865 positive cases out of 403,347 tests conducted as of August 31, 2020.

“In the same 24-hour period, 199 persons were discharged from hospital, giving us total successful treatment of 41,513 patients. We are beginning to see a situation where the number of those treated and discharged exceeds the number of positive cases detected.

“While these figures may seem reassuring, they may be deceptive, and we cannot assume that the curve is flattening, since we are yet to perfect due diligence on our side,” Ehanire warned.

He added that with a total of 1,013 deaths recorded so far, the case fatality rate has also dropped slightly to 1.88 percent and that the gradual fall, possibly an indication of improvement in response and treatment strategies to contain COVID-19 and also a common global trend.

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The minister added that as long as the nation still record deaths from the virus, there is no room for complacency until government meet its goal to reduce fatality rate to less than one percent.

He said, “We are still working on plans for Community Support Centres in small towns and rural areas, where persons who test positive, but risk infecting others due to the nature of their living conditions, are isolated, or the vulnerable who live among infected groups, are removed for a while, for their safety, till the risk is gone.

“Our target is to test two million Nigerians for COVID-19, of which we have achieved barely a quarter and to scale up to four million persons. For this, collaboration with State and FCT health sector structures is crucial. We urge all State organs not to relent in strengthening surveillance and setting up sample collection sites in all LGAs, and even in all wards of the hotspot LGAs,” he said.

Ehanire said that the logistics for sample retrieval and testing must be assured, as the Federal Government makes provision for at least one laboratory in every state, with only Niger, Kebbi and Taraba now outstanding.

He lamented that most of the laboratories are, however operating well below capacity and that plans have been concluded to set up and optimize laboratories in all states.

Ehanire said that as plans for Lagos and Abuja airports to reopen for commercial international flights become reality, everyone must raise the vigilance level.

“It is our collective interest and responsibility to guard against new cases entering our country undetected. In this regard, we must review our protocols to ensure early detection, isolation and treatment of any positive case.

“While this protocol may cause inconvenience, like delays at the airport, it is a small price to pay for our safely and health, especially for travellers. Our contribution as individuals is simple: to keep each other safe by wearing our masks and observing social measures,” he said.

The minister added that as the nation strive to bring COVID-19 under control, the country must keep its eyes on other diseases that contribute to mortality, especially of women and children in Nigeria.

He said that Malaria is one such example, for which government continue to strengthen routine services in the primary health care facilities.

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