© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Suspected COVID-19 cases: NCDC’s delayed response responsible for our travails – relatives
IN late April, an emotionally-laden audio message went viral on social media. It was more of a Save Our Souls (SOS) call demanding urgent intervention.
Oblivious to many, Selma Ahmed, a 70-year-old grandmother was behind the emergency message. The call made to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) was to report a suspected case in Kano and see how the Centre could intervene. But the efforts yielded no result until the old woman eventually lost her son-in-law to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).
She said she was disappointed that the NCDC official to whom she spoke was deceptive in his response. The official promised to visit her son-in-law, a suspected case of Coronavirus but refused to show up after several calls to the Centre. And the young man died hours later.
She said her son-in-law was earlier treated for typhoid and high fever before his case became worse. Her daughter who was married to the deceased repeatedly called the NCDC, but the agency’s lines were unresponsive.
At some point, concerned individuals offered an alternative number they could use to reach out to the NCDC which they called repeatedly, but no one answered.
Unknown to the family the agency’s office in Kano state was already shut down due to the spread of the infection at the centre.
Ahmed said as a result of their failed attempts, she put an emergency call to the Abuja NCDC office. And the NCDC officials allegedly promised to respond to the situation.
“NCDC said they will go there. Every 30 minutes, I will call the NCDC because the one in Kano were (sic) not responding. He (the operator) was telling me they would soon go there, they would soon go there! When the thing was getting out of hand, I called this man, please tell me the truth, what is happening?
“Then he told me that the NCDC in Kano has been shut down. I said ‘you know they have shut down and you are telling me they will soon go there, why did you continue to play with my intelligence,'” she queried.
All she got in response was “sorry madam.” Frustrated, the old woman later called on the authorities to save her daughter and children who also might have been exposed to coronavirus.
But Ahmed family was not the only victim of NCDC’s negligence.
“NCDC promised to visit my father, we waited over 3 hours but no one showed”
On 30th April, a lady identified as Martha also disclosed on social media how NCDC failed to respond after many calls for help.
Her father, an airline employee was symptomatic of the COIVD-19 disease.
Like the grandmother who lost her son-in-law, Martha also relied on social media to get the NCDC’s attention.
“Please guys I need you to help me retweet this until NCDC sees this. We have been trying to get them [NCDC] to see my dad he is an airline staff and he is having coronavirus symptoms,” says Marteetarh
Martha later reported on Twitter that she finally got through to NCDC, but the officials did not show up.
Seeing the tweet which had garnered so much reaction on the social media, Kano State Ministry of Health @KNSMOH advised she call the state COVID-19 emergency number.
The state authority proceeded to share with her the hotline numbers; 0909-399-5333, 0909-399-5444 and 0800-COVIDKN.
“Please do call one of the above hotlines and explain your case they will surely respond…..we pray with you,” the officials tweeted.
But in her response, her family had earlier placed a call to the state health authorities yet no one showed up, three hours after they promised to visit.
“We called in the morning, they said they were coming 3 hours later but they didn’t show up.”
On 2nd April, she announced that the NCDC eventually reached out to her family. That was about two days after.
I had similar unpleasant experience – I was told to visit the hospital
Also narrating his experience, a man identified as @a_Crownofwealth on social media said he arrived the country from the United States on 1st March, but nine days after, he started developing symptoms of COVID-19.
According to him, the ailment which started with a headache became worse such that he had pains at his lungs and could not take a deep breath.
“NCDC did the same thing to me. I came back from USA on March 1st. On March 10th. I started seeing symptoms, I could not sleep for seven days straight, with headache, pain in my neck, geld, and so on. I called Osogbo state line, I was told to go to the hospital.
“… I can’t even take a deep breath. Then I had palpitations in my heart. Felt stiffness in my back and neck.”
Luckily, he later tested negative after visiting the hospital. “I have never taken medications like this in my entire life. I have been treating every symptom that comes with it,” he noted.
They did exactly the same to me
In Lagos state, there are a number of reported cases which went viral. Among them is a man identified as @oluwastoner1 on social media. He said after observing the symptoms, he went on self-isolation for 14 days, stressing that he denied his roommates access to his room for the period and was conscious not to spread the disease.
“They did exactly the same thing to me,” Oluwastoner said.
Narrating his experience, he shared how he further developed a sore throat, high temperature, headache and mild difficulty in breathing.
“NCDC told me to treat myself for cold flu but the symptoms persisted. I called severally they refused to come….”
Amidst the increasing figure of confirmed cases of the disease nationwide, the experiences mentioned above are among cases of delayed response by NCDC. There are several under-reported suspected cases.
Findings by The ICIR revealed that once the NCDC becomes unresponsive, relatives of the suspected cases or the victims would resort to tagging personal handles of social media influentials such as @UtohPaul and Adetutu Balogun @Tutsy.
A check on their timelines, for instance, shows that Paul has over 10, 000 followers while Balogun has garnered more than 175, 000 followers.
Both persons have been consistent in dishing out COVID-19 preventive measures as well as vital summary information from the NCDC. According to Paul, the duo have been able to intervene in over 150 cases across the country.
“@Tutsy22 and I are not frontline workers but in the last five weeks, we have intervened in over 150 different cases nationwide. I personally sleep less than three hours at night and try to catch sleep during the day at any given opportunity. We do it for you but we also need your cooperation,” Paul stated on Tuesday.
Nigerians have continued to express worry over delayed response time from the (NCDC), each time a suspected case is reported.
They criticised the centre officials of being unresponsive which had needlessly caused many deaths, especially in Kano state.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria, however, NCDC has been at the forefront of the global pandemic, managing the confirmed cases and publishing vital national guidelines required to reduce the virus spread.
It has successfully formulated preventive measures, safety procedures and gradually expanded the figure of testing centres nationwide to 15.
The Centre has also consistently updated Nigerians on latest developments on the pandemic, via the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
As of 5th May, 2950 confirmed cases of the virus has been recorded in the country, 98 deaths while 481 have been discharged.
Lagos has the highest number of cases with 1,226 cases, followed by Kano with 397, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) 307 and Borno State 106.
These constant updates by the NCDC have received commendations from various quarters, but people are concerned still about the agency’s delayed response time.
The calls are enormous but there are alternatives – NCDC
The ICIR tried to reach Emeka Oguanuo, the NCDC Spokesperson, but he did not respond to a text message sent to him.
However, Dr. Chinwe Ochu, Head of Prevention, Programmes and Knowledge Management said there are 15 areas where COVID-19 could be tested in the country. She said though the public has no right to visit the test centres, they could contact the NCDC if they developed symptoms of the virus.
She said the NCDC has also facilitated the establishment of emergency operation centres at the state, engaged contact tracers and those who work at the call centre.
In Lagos, Kano and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), for instance, she disclosed during a television broadcast on the Nigerian Television Authority that active case search had commenced into communities, especially those settlements considered more exposed to the COVID-19 disease.
She explained that anyone who develops symptoms such as cough, fever, sore throat, running nose, difficulty in breathing, should promptly call any of the provided hotlines stressing that arrangements would be made by the state team to collect such samples for testing.
While reacting to the issue of untimely response to emergency calls from suspected cases, she said there are various phone lines the public could call to reach out to the centre but described the calls as ‘enormous’.
According to her, whenever calls are made to the centre and no one answers, the public should remain persistent until they get a response.
“…we receive calls from all the states in the federation. Keep calling, definitely, you will get through but most importantly, there are call centres at the state levels, that may be free which you could call, and get a quicker response than the national line.”
She, however, advised the public to call state lines, as it is easier to reach. Aside from the toll-free number 0800-9700-0010, the NCDC, she noted could be reached via Whatsapp +234-708-711-0839 and text messages at +234-809-955-5577 all available on the official website.