The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has described as ‘unfortunate and condemnable,’ the continued obstruction of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) by the governments of Kogi and Cross River State.
“This impedance is despite the lofty provisions in the NCDC Establishment Act (2018) which empower the organization to “prevent, detect, monitor and control” activities and programs for the national response against infectious diseases epidemics and other public health emergencies; and also to “lead, develop, coordinate”, the NMA said in a Saturday statement signed by its President, Francis Faduyile.
Governments in both states, which are the only two yet to confirm any case of the virus, have been at loggerheads with the NCDC and federal authorities for discouraging COVID-19 testing and not adhering to the national response strategy.
Authorities in Kogi and Cross Rivers believe there is a plot to compulsorily report COVID-19 cases in the states but medical experts and federal officials said the low number of test samples turned in from the states is making it difficult to ascertain if they are actually coronavirus-free.
The statement by the NMA followed an earlier one in which it urged the federal government to direct through the Presidential Task Force (PTF) an investigation into the COVID-19 free status of Kogi and Cross Rivers.
The doctors said an investigation into the status and response to the coronavirus by the two states’ governments is in the interest of safeguarding Nigeria’s public health, and to recommend appropriate remedial intervention if necessary, to President Muhammadu Buhari.
In Saturday’s release, Mr Faduyile said the situation requires urgent intervention by the president.
Despite being surrounded by states with confirmed cases of the virus, the government in Kogi has at least once scuttled efforts by the NCDC to coordinate COVID-19 testing.
Last Thursday, a delegation comprising officials of NCDC and the Department of Hospital Services of the Federal Ministry of Health had to flee the state for fear of being quarantined by the Kogi State Government.
The NMA chapter in the North-central state had expressed concern over the stance of the Kogi government, warning that the consequences of not testing people for the COVID-19 may be too enormous to deal with.
As of Sunday morning, Nigeria has recorded 5, 621 infections from over 32,000 tests conducted in a country of nearly 200 million populace since the emergence of the pneumonia-like disease in late February.
Health experts say the true spread of the disease is vastly understated due to under-testing as the country is besieged with multiple testing challenges, including delays in the collection of samples, and submission of results with many states not working in sync with the national response strategy.
Meanwhile, authorities in Kogi remained firm in their resolve to independently coordinate the containment measures, insisting that the state is free from the virus.
According to a statement signed by the State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Kingsley Fanwo, all tests for COVID-19 in the state returned negative, the Vanguard Newspaper reported.
“Kogi State got testing kits independently but followed NCDC guidelines. One hundred and eleven COVID-19 rapid tests were conducted in Kogi State yesterday and all results came out negative,” Mr Fanwo said.
“We brought in about 5,000 testing kits. Testing centers are located in three places. You can do it at the ministry of health.”
Saturday’s statement by the NMA also delved into other developments around Nigeria’s response to the outbreak.
The following are the observations and proffered solutions by the NMA.
The acceptance of the herbal remedy from Madagascar
On the acceptance of the herbal remedy from Madagascar ‘Covid Organics’ by the Federal Government, (it) is an act of pulling all stops in search of remedial interventions in protecting the lives of our citizens. We appreciate the concerns of our colleagues in the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and bemoan the situation where Nigeria appears to be lagging and not leading the Black race’s response against the pandemic. NMA insists that the herbal mixture undergoes due diligence based on scientific methods before authorizing its use in the polity while urging the government to leapfrog the revitalization of research and production activities of our pharmaceutical industries.
The Association is carefully studying the overall impact of the newly approved WHO’s home treatment policy for COVID-19 patients. While accepting the noticeable acute shortage of bed spaces available at the designated centres, NMA cautions that the peculiarities in Nigeria should be taken into consideration and therefore urges FG to adapt this new regulation. Nigeria has an average of six (6) persons per household; and consequently, wholesale adoption of this guideline may not be applicable here. We risk an explosive regime of community transmission if we adopt the guidelines completely without modifications, especially in situations of poor housing and overcrowding.
Preparing PHCs for Response
Following from (3) above, NMA is of the firm conviction that revamping our abandoned General Hospitals and Primary Health Centres (PHCs) will mitigate the challenges with home treatment and acute shortage of bed spaces. We still maintain that Isolation and Treatment centres should stand alone to avoid the nosocomial spread of this infection especially in settings of poor hygiene practices.
While the NCDC has carried out only 29,400 tests, as at 14th May 2020, we appreciate the reasons advanced for the ‘smart testing’ option by the NCDC. However, it has become apparent that this method has not revealed the real incidence of COVID-19 in Nigeria. NMA, therefore, advocates fast-tracking of testing using innovative specimen collection and transport modalities to ameliorate this deficit in technique.
NMA appreciates quite immensely the Coalition against COVID-19 (CA-COVID) which is a coalition of corporate Nigeria mobilizing resources to mitigate the embarrassing infrastructural deficiencies in the health sector for the management of the outbreak. We appeal that they extend their humanitarian and patriotic gesture outside Abuja to other parts of the Federation as promised, especially the States with high incidence. NMA also calls on the Coalition not to abandon healthcare delivery to the government alone post-COVID as the current pandemic has exposed several deficiencies in the system.