Virologists and other health experts on Wednesday warned that low COVID-19 testing by state governments was dangerous to the battle against coronavirus.
The experts stated this in separate interviews with The PUNCH as the Nigerian Medical Association attributed the recent surge in coronavirus cases to the reopening of schools without necessary preparations.
Recall that the Federal Government had on Tuesday lamented that despite resources available to states, COVID-19 testing they were conducting was still low.
Commenting on the low testing, a molecular virologist at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Dr Joseph Shaibu, in an interview with The PUNCH, stressed the need for the country to do more.
Shaibu said doing more tests would give the country the full picture of the COVID-19 burden.
He said, “Before we can say whether the virus is everywhere in the country or not or before we can pinpoint the high-burdened area, we need to test. If we don’t test, we won’t know where to pay more attention to as far as the management, control and preventive measures to put in place are concerned.
Mass testing will define high-burden areas for vaccination purpose – Virologist
“For example, there are some states that we don’t even know whether there is COVID-19 there or not. It is difficult to put preventive methods in such states. So long as they are not testing, people are not aware that they are living with the virus and as such it will be spreading and the vulnerable ones will be dying of the virus. But if adequate testing is going on, it alerts the people that the virus is with us and makes people to maintain the preventive measures.”
“Even if we want to do vaccination, it is testing that defines the high-burdened areas that will dictate where to pay more attention to. You cannot just carry vaccine that is not enough and start vaccinating everybody.”
Not doing enough testing will affect contact tracing, says NAS President
On his part, the President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Mosto Onuoha, said not doing enough testing would not allow the country to monitor the spread of COVID-19.
Onuoha, who is also the Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on COVID-19 herbal remedies, told one of our correspondents in an interview that contact tracing was the most important thing in the control of disease outbreaks.
He stated, “When you are not doing enough testing, then you are not monitoring the pattern of the spread of the disease. When you do not test, you do not detect those who have been infected and this will make contact tracing difficult.
“Remember, a lot of people may have the virus and be asymptomatic. The danger for those who are asymptomatic and do not know is that they will pass the virus to others who have underlying health conditions. That is why many younger people contract virus and survive but they pass to their parents or grandparents.
“When the states are not testing, then we are in no position to monitor the spread of the disease. The most important thing in the control of this thing is contact tracing.”
Late detection of COVID-19 and low testing rate increase risk of death – Virologist
A Professor of Virology at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Prof. Georgina Odaibo, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “For every infection, the earlier you detect, the better. If you are able to detect early, you can bring in intervention early enough. Of course, that is going to reduce the rate of outcome in terms of death. I think that is the way the testing for COVID-19 is also affecting the death rate.
“If there is a lot of testing at the early stage before they get to a critical stage, apparently we are going to detect the infection early enough. Apparently, the people that are dying are those who are at a bad stage before the infection is diagnosed in them.”
According to her, COVID-19 test can be compulsory for whosever goes to hospitals.
She stated, “This is because COVID-19 does not have a specific symptom. It can come with fever, headache, running stomach or cough. All the avenues where people seek healthcare can be used. This will cost a luxury, no doubt but it is good.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, had on Monday said the state had conducted 236,212 COVID-19 tests, the highest in the country.
The NCDC, in its latest figures released on Sunday listed eight states and the Federal Capital Territory with high number of tests.
They include the FCT with 119,843 tests; Rivers, 84, 553; Kano, 61, 768; Ogun, 44,398; Plateau, 43,063; Kaduna, 39, 642; Oyo, 30, 579; Gombe, 28, 806 and Delta, 23, 116.
The states with low tests, according to the NCDC, are Kogi 451; Zamfara, 1,211; Cross River, 2,166; Kebbi, 2,766; Jigawa, 3,273; Anambra, 3,395; Akwa Ibom, 4,143; Adamawa, 4,649; Yobe, 4,277 and Osun, 6,379.
NMA blames schools reopening for second surge
Also on Wednesday, the President of the NMA, Prof. Anthony Ujah, blamed the surge in COVID-19 on the reopening of schools and the National Youth Service Corps camps.
Ujah, who stated this at a webinar organised by the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, recalled that he warned government against reopening of schools.
Following the outbreak of coronavirus in the country in March, the Federal Government ordered closure of all schools.
In August, government recalled Senior Secondary School 3 students to enable them to write the West African Senior School Certificate Examination which started on August 4.
But in September, it directed all schools across the country to resume, adding that on their resumption they must observe COVID-19 safety rules such as social distancing and hand washing.
On Wednesday, the NMA president said the country was not adequately prepared when the schools were reopened.
Ujah stated, “When the government wanted to reopen the schools, I cautioned them and said if the schools must be reopened, there must be necessary preparations to prevent the children from contracting the virus. One parent wrote the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 that I didn’t want people to go to school and that I was being wicked.
“Now, we all know better; a lot of children who sat for the last WASSCE were infected. Today, some corps members have also been infected. These are some of the things that could have been prevented if sufficient precautions were taken before reopening the schools.”
The NMA president also lamented the disregard for social distancing by Nigerians, saying it had contributed to the rising COVID-19 cases.
He stated, “Social distancing in my opinion has failed. Recall that during the campaigns for the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, everyone was falling over each other.”
Also at the event, the President of the Joint Health Sector Unions of Nigeria, Biobelemoye Josiah, said members of the association might opt out of the fight against COVID-19 on the grounds of discrimination.
He said, “My members were very unfairly treated during the first wave. Prof. Ujah has rightly said that all members of the team (fighting coronavirus), who should have been well taken care of, were not well taken care of.
“This time, the warning is that I may not be able to appeal to the conscience of my members to come out and take part in the fight against the virus during the second wave.”
On his part, the convener of the alliance, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, called for increased funding of the nation’s health sector.
He said, “COVID-19 is real. We are appealing to all Nigerians to appreciate the danger posed to our collective health by the COVID-19 pandemic. We need a massive increase in the funding of public health.”
States abandon protocol enforcement amid COVID-19 spike
Meanwhile, despite the appeal by the PTF that state governments should enforce compliance with COVID-19 protocols, residents have been violating the safety rules.
At the Osun State Government Secretariat on Wednesday, one of our correspondents observed that there was no compliance with the COVID-19 protocols, as many civil servants were without face masks.
Many commercial buses have yet to comply with a directive limiting the number of passengers that they must convey.
On the streets of Osogbo, the state capital and in some markets visited within the metropolis, many residents were seeing without face masks, while the level of enforcement of the protocols was low.
Efforts to get reaction of the government to the development proved futile as calls to the telephone of the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Rafiu Isamotu, were not picked. He had yet to respond to an SMS sent to him as of the time of sending this report.
In Ogun State, the level of compliance was also low as very few people were seen with face masks.
When one of correspondents visited markets in the state , many people were not complying with the non-pharmaceutical protocols of COVID-19.
Confirming the situation, the Special Adviser to Governor Dapo Abiodun on Public Communications, Remmy Hazzan, said the government was aware of the partial compliance.
He said, “Enforcement is already going on. Non-compliance is a problem nationwide. There are locations where there is absolute compliance, especially in public buildings and there are locations where we have little or no compliance. It now means that the enforcement team needs to move into those locations where we have little compliance.”
In Bauchi State, many people have abandoned the observance of the protocols.
At the Bauchi-Jos Road park, The PUNCH observed that only a very few people were wearing face masks. Also, the social distance protocol was not adhered to as drivers still conveyed passengers as they used to before the pandemic.
In a telephone interview with The PUNCH, the Chairman of the Surveillance and Contact Tracing sub-committee of the State Task Force on COVID-19 and Lassa Fever, Dr. Rilwan Mohammed, said that the task force recently held a meeting with religious leaders where they appealed to them to adhere to the protocols.
In Enugu State The PUNCH correspondent who monitored compliance with the COVID-19 protocols in some major markets and government offices, observed that over 90 per cent of people were flouting the rules.
It was observed at Ogbete Main Market, Artisan Market, New Market and Peace Mass Transport park and Enugu State Secretariat that there were no hand washing facilities and hand sanitisers provided in most places.
Some people, who spoke to the correspondent said that there was no COVID-19 in the state.
But the Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Reverend Callistus Onaga in a statement, advised Catholic faithful to ensure that they observe all the protocols.