THE Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has revealed that the country now has eight functional laboratories to test for coronavirus (COVID-19), as the Bio-Security Centre in Lagos adds to the seven existing ones.
The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, made this known on Friday at the media briefing held by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
Ihekweazu said: “In terms of contacts tracing, cumulatively, we have identified about 6,700 contacts. We have followed up on about 71 per cent of that.
“Lagos particularly has benefitted from the ‘lockdown’, which has really enabled them to do this very difficult work.
“To date, we have tested about 4,000 people and we will continue to drive up this number.
“Sometime, there have been some delays, but every single sample that has come forward has actually been tested.
“We have added one more lab this morning, so we have eight. The reason is that now three labs will be working independently in Lagos.
“Now, the Bio-Security Centre in Lagos, which used to work with LUTH in collaboration, has now completely separated.
“So, we now have three labs working independently in Lagos. We now have a total of eight.
“Today, we are activating a second lab in Abuja-the Defense Reference lab-to support not only the Armed Forces but everyone around that area, their families and everyone else. We will work with them to scale up that testing.
“The next town we will be going to will be Kano. So between Sunday and Monday, we hope to activate Kano and from there start a series of labs in the northern part of Nigeria to make sure everyone has access to the lab closest to his or her location.”
“The eight laboratories we have in the country now are NCDC National Reference Laboratory in Abuja; Nigeria Institute of Medical Research in Lagos; Lagos State University Teaching Hospital and Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo State.
“Others are African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) in Osun State; University College Hospital, Ibadan; the Virology Laboratory of Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki and the Bio-Security Centre in Lagos.”
Ihekweazu further added: “There is no testing of high profile people going on.
“Earlier on, we had a slightly different case definition. We changed that case definition and since then, everybody is adhering very strictly to that case definition. So, we are not under any kind of pressure to test anyone.
“Getting more people tested is something that is being talked about globally and you’ll all have been following this conversation.
“This is exactly what we’re trying to do too to improve our capacity to test. But we must do so safely and we must make sure that in the effort to do it quickly, we maintain the due diligence and make sure that every test that we provide to every Nigerian, when it’s negative, it’s negative, and when it’s positive, it’s positive.
“So, as much as speed is important, safety is also important and we have to find the balance between these two.
“While some global bodies have advised everyone to ‘test, test, test,’ the realities around the world are not the same.
“The world is different, the circumstances are different and Mr. President asked us not to look East or West but to find the right solutions for our country, considering the circumstances in our country.
“So, we cannot raise expectations to unrealistic limits; we will keep pushing step-by-step to improve our testing capacity. It’s not an easy process that you can switch on and off.
“We are not just limited by funds, we’re not just limited by infrastructure, the biggest limitation is the human resource: the people that have already been trained in molecular diagnostic testing.
“So, we have over the last few days issued a case definition that has been widely circulated to the states, and we are asking our colleagues across the country to adhere to this definition to test only those that have symptoms – respiratory symptoms plus fever, that have either returned from travel, which is now a declining proportion, those that have had contacts with cases or for those that there is no other underlying reason for having these symptoms.
“This case definition might change over time as we increase our capacity. But in the short term, we need to make sure that we have focused on those that need it the most.
“We are not testing asymptomatic patients at the moment; that is our policy. There are several reasons for that.
“We can’t announce we will do something until we ensure that we are able to do it and do it well.
“These are not emotional decisions. If we have the capability to test 100,000 people, we would announce it. But the simple truth is that we don’t at the moment.
“We are building up our capacity. What we are doing is focusing on those that need it the most. We are not saying we will not do it in the long term.”
Concerning the availability for use of face masks and other protective tools, the NCDC boss said: “At the moment, our priority with masks are healthcare workers because they are the most at risk of getting this disease, especially those managing patients in Lagos, Abuja and all the other centres where there are cases.
“We have distributed IPC materials to these centres, and to every teaching hospital, FMC.
“You can rest assured we will never deploy anything before we validate its use. We will never deploy a test kit until we have validated its use.
“Right now, that process is ongoing, and we are still using the kits that we had before the donation from Jack Ma came. (The Nation)