The Federal Government may be able to increase its weekly COVID-19 testing by 9,100 following its readiness to repurpose the tuberculosis GeneXpert machines already deployed in all the states and the Federal Capital Territory.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in its ‘National Strategy to Scale Up Access to Coronavirus Disease Testing in Nigeria’ posted on its website noted that the objective of planning to repurpose the tuberculosis machines were to decentralise and speed up testing across the country and strengthen national surveillance for COVID-19.
In the document, the NCDC explained that the country has 407 GeneXpert instruments deployed in 399 health facilities across the country, for use as first-line testing for TB diagnosis. It, however, noted that the United States-based Food and Drug Administration had granted the manufacturer, Cepheid, Emergency Use Authorisations for the use of the instruments and specially designed cartridge in testing for COVID-19.
The NCDC, which is the coordinating agency for the COVID-19 response in the country, said given that “every state of the federation including the FCT has at least five GeneXpert sites, at least one site in each state will be repurposed for COVID-19 testing.”
It noted that with the GeneXpert machines, each of which could test 24 samples daily, it is targeting 1,300 tests per day with ability to return test results same day, and since the NCDC conducts tests every day of the week, Nigeria could therefore increase its weekly testing by 9,100.
The NCDC added, “There are also available in-country two mobile laboratories equipped with two GeneXpert instruments each. These will be deployed as needed to support COVID-19 testing surge in target states.
“The planned decentralised testing using GeneXpert will enable states to test low volume samples (1–24 samples daily) with same day return of results, while bulk samples will be referred to the Central/Regional PCR Laboratories as elucidated above. This will increase the country’s testing capacity by additional 1,300 tests per day.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said at the briefing by the Presidential task Force on COVID-19 on Friday that government envisaged a steady rise in the number of cases with “more diligent testing, treatment, isolation and (contact) tracing.”
He added that in the use of the GeneXpert machines, the government would prioritise Sokoto and Borno states as soon as the cartridges begin to arrive in a few weeks.
He said, “A Federal Ministry of Health team has been assembled to proceed to Sokoto and Borno on fact-finding and support missions to engage with state authorities and determine material and technical needs.
“A most immediate probability is the prioritisation of these states for the deployment of repurposed GeneXpert machines as soon as we start receiving the cartridges in a few weeks to bring speed to testing.”
Speaking on the index case in Benue State, Ehanire said the government was able to persuade Mrs Susan Idoko-Okpe to allow her test sample to be taken to the laboratory for testing on Thursday and that the result was being awaited, noting that it would be given to her in person.
He said the annual World Health Assembly held every year in Geneva, Switzerland would begin on Monday through teleconference and he would lead the Nigerian delegation to the conference, which he said would focus on the global spread and response to COVID-19.
On the issue of foreign medical doctors, Ehanire noted that the government had not allowed Nigerians to be treated by any foreign national.
The NCDC on Friday disclosed that Nigeria recorded 288 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the country to 5,445. The number of deaths rose to 171 while the number of those discharged rose to 1,320.
“The 288 new cases are reported from 15 states – Lagos(179), Kaduna (20), Katsina (15), Jigawa(15), Borno (13), Ogun(11), Kano(8), FCT(7), Niger (4), Ekiti(4), Oyo (3), Delta (3), Bauchi(3), Kwara (2), Edo(1).”
The NCDC also apologised for making errors in its announcement on Thursday, adding, “On the 14th of May, four cases reported from Plateau and one case from Akwa Ibom, were repeat cases. Therefore, Plateau has a total of 21 cases and Akwa Ibom has a total of 16 cases.”
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 also directed hospitals to treat non-COVID-19 patients to avoid unnecessary deaths in the county.
The PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, at the briefing said governors should ensure the health services continued in their states as stated in the protocol.
He said, “We have also noticed a marked reduction in the delivery of non-COVID-19 related services in our hospitals. The Minister of Health had on several occasions implored our health institutions not to jeopardise offering critical health services to patients who require attention.
“The PTF wishes to reiterate this call and request that health service providers should help relieve the burden of diseases in the country by offering the required services.
“As of present, records show that we may be experiencing more unnecessary deaths because our hospitals are turning back non-COVID-19 related patients.”
He also revealed that N792,121,613.89 had been credited into the Federal Government COVID-19 Eradication Support Accounts from various in-country sources, while thanking the donors, including those who donated N1.
Mustapha explained that the account domiciled in the office of the Accountant General of the Federation was different from those operated by the Coalition Against COVID-19, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Partners, as well as the United Nations One Basket Fund with support from international donor partners.
“These are the three major contributors to the response and none of them fall under the control of the Federal Government,” he added.
On the fund in the AGF’s office, Mustapha said it was not under the control of the PTF.
“It is managed by the AGF. Ours is when we need money for our work, we place a budget and a requisition, and the money is provided. We don’t control the accounts for all these contributions. Money is released to us on a need basis,” he said.
Mustapha commended the security agencies for ensuring the security of lives and property; Lagos chapter of the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria for making hotels available for use as isolation centres and some airlines such as Dana Air, AERO Contractors and Bristow Helicopters which provided support for the movement of logistics and supplies.
The SGF also urged Nigerians to avoid self-medication, stating that treating symptoms should not be mistaken as treating the virus.
He said, “We should always remember that the symptoms of COVID-19 mimics some illnesses we already know but treating the symptoms is not the same as treating the virus and for this reason, we strongly discourage self-medication.
“We shall continue to encourage all Nigerians that feel the symptoms to go for testing and if positive, go to the isolation centres for care by experts. We still discourage management of this infectious disease by private hospitals due to the risk of infection.”