Nigeria is desperately in need of testing materials to expand the daily testing capacity for the coronavirus, the director of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said on Sunday.
Mr Ihekweazu, who disclosed this on Twitter, also gave specification of the test kits Nigeria was looking for and preferred manufacturers.
He wrote: “We’re desperately looking for more RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) extraction kits as we expand #COVID19 testing. Product: Total viral RNA extraction kits (preferably spin column and with a lysis buffer). Manufacturers: Qiagen, ThermoFischer, SeeGene, Inqaba, LifeRiver etc.”
The NCDC DG’s call for more kits followed growing concerns over the country’s slow-paced testing amid a lockdown that has paralysed economic activities.
Official figures of Nigeria’s coronavirus infections crossed a thousand threshold on Friday, but there are indications the tally could vastly understate the true spread and toll of the contagion due to poor testing capacity.
Nigeria has the worst testing coverage in countries with over 1, 000 cases in Africa and anywhere in the world, based on data from worldometer.info.
On April 1, the Nigerian government said the national testing capacity was increased from 500 to 1,500 to expand coverage.
During a briefing of the Presidential Task Force for COVID-19 in Abuja last Tuesday, the NCDC DG said that the centre would increase the testing capacity to 4000 per day across the country with 2000 samples to be done per day in Lagos State.
But the Nigerian Infectious Diseases Society (NIDS) said the country is not meeting the daily target.
“They are not meeting the target of 1, 500 testing per day,” said Usman Abdulrahman, an official of NIDS, a multidisciplinary society of practitioners in the field of infectious diseases.
“If you are testing 1, 500 on daily bases for more than three weeks, by now you should have tested over 30, 000 people.”
Health authorities have conducted over 10,000 tests out of a population of nearly 200 million and found 1, 273 infected persons, including 40 health workers, and 40 deaths.
Simply put, one in ten people who get tested for the coronavirus is found to have it.
Experts said the country has “high test-positivity-rate”, meaning that testing is limited for only people with a very high probability of having the infection while those with milder symptoms or none at all could possibly go undercounted.
Controversy in Kano over the suspension of testing due to scarcity of test kits and contamination of workers at the state’s newly established testing centre also painted a picture of poor coverage and gave an insight of what could happen if the contagion is not carefully managed.
Although the health minister, Osagie Ehanire, said the testing materials had been made available and the centre will resume operations on Monday, the state has no recorded case for three consecutive days’ despite being one of the country’s hotspots.
Kano, the third hardest hit state, reported 73 infections in about two weeks of confirming its index case, fueling concerns the state could become the country’s new ‘ground zero’ due to its dense community population.
This is especially after scores of unexplained deaths were reported in the ancient city last week, which many suspected to be caused by the coronavirus.
None of the persons who died were tested for COVID-19 and majority have already been promptly buried with residents saying some exhibited symptoms of the disease.