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COVID-19: NCDC proposes new strategy to scale up testing, predicts more disease epicentres

THE NIGERIA Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says it would adopt a new strategy to scale up Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing in Nigeria, as the day proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari to ease the lockdown imposed on Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states comes closer.

President Buhari had on Monday in a nationwide broadcast announced a phased easing of lockdown in the nation’s capital and the two states starting on Monday, May 4.

But the NCDC in a 32-page document released and sighted by The ICIR predicted that there would be increase in cases of COVID-19 across the country and a possibility of new disease epicentres in different states of the nation.

As part of strategies to manage the impending increase, the Centre according to the document, recommended the need to activate state-level response noting that different phases of the novel virus may start ravaging many states in the country.

“As the COVID-19 situation evolves and the characteristics of the outbreak changes, new disease epicentres will emerge thus elevating the important of a state level response,” NCDC said.

“Various states are at different levels of the outbreak, therefore a tailored approach suited to the context is required recognising the need to prepare for potential subsequent phases.”

Nigeria currently ranks 31st out of 55 on the African continent in carrying out COVID-19 tests.

The country has capacity to carry out only about 1,500 tests daily and only a total of 11, 426 persons tested as at the time of filing this report.

The NCDC through the Federal Ministry of Health, has prioritized  testing as one of the key strategies to the COVID-19 response in Nigeria.

As Nigeria continues to wage war against the novel virus that has killed over 217,000 people globally, the Centre said it plans to increasing its testing capacity by activating more laboratories.

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At the moment, there exists only 12 laboratories in eight states of the federation.

In the document, the NCDC disclosed plans to increase the laboratories to 15 in 12 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

This, it said  would increase national testing output to at least 3,500 tests per day across the country.

In increasing testing capacity, the Centre noted that infected citizens would be easily found, isolated and treated , thereby improving the country’s fight against the deadly virus.

Currently, Nigeria has recorded 1,523 cases of COVID-19, and 44 deaths.

To manage the increasing numbers of infected persons, NCDC has proposd ramping up diagnostic testing in May, by beginning testing in existing Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Tuberculosis laboratories across the country.

According to the organisation, the country has 37 molecular laboratory equipment platforms currently deployed and in use within the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)-supported National Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Network for HIV viral load and Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) testing.

“These Mega-PCR laboratories have a combined minimum testing capacity of 7,000 tests per day, about half of which will be dedicated to COVID-19 testing,” NCDC submitted in its strategy document.

In a bid to contribute to research and development – a move that would launch Nigeria’s path to finding a possible cure or vaccine, the Centre said it plans to  roll out mass testing to survey the population and to learn more about the virus between May and September.

“The NCDC will explore the role of antigen and antibody tests in the future. This is essential to understand the rate of infection, and how the virus is spreading across the country. This will enable an assessment of the impact of measures taken so far to contain the virus, to inform current and future actions,” it said.

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However, the Centre pointed out that there are several challenges that greet each stage of its proposed expansion.

For one, it noted that global shortage of materials needed to run the end-to-end testing process at full capacity, particularly the reagents can mar the country’s battle against the virus

According to the document, there is also the never-ending need for specialists across the country, which at the moment stands as a deterrent in increasing testing capacity.

 The ICIR earlier reported how the situation in Kano State had worsened due to an understaffed NCDC branch office.

It was reported that operations were shut down, despite recurring reports that mass deaths possibly linked to COVID-19  were being recorded in the state which houses over three million Nigerians.

Cases like that of Kano has led NCDC to plan on initiating decentralised testing.

According to the public health institute, and as contained in its strategy documents, Nigeria currently has 407 GeneXpert instruments (manufactured by Cepheid) deployed in 399 health facilities across the country for use as first line testing for TB diagnosis.

It proposed that as part of its strategy and given that every state of the federation including the FCT has at least 5 GeneXpert sites, at least one GeneXpert site in each state will be repurposed for COVID-19 testing, to activate decentralised testing in all states.

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