The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has debunked allegations made by the Cross River State Government that the agency is shipping positive and negative test kits and cartridges into the state.
NCDC, in a statement issued on Saturday, said it was aware of recent statements regarding the country’s COVID-19 testing processes, by the Commissioners of Information and Health in Cross River State.
The Director General, NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the statements by the Cross River Commissioners of Information and Health are a misinterpretation of the Federal Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 testing strategy and efforts to protect the health of Nigerians from this disease.
“We would like to state unequivocally, that there is no plan to transport positive samples from one state to the other.
“One of our responsibilities at NCDC is to scale-up the capacity for COVID-19 diagnosis in Nigeria as we respond to this pandemic. Our ability to promptly detect cases and halt the spread of the virus in our communities, is largely dependent on our ability to scale-up access to testing for Nigerians,” he said.
The Commissioners of Information and Health in Cross River State, Asu Okang and Beta Edu, had, during the week, accused the NCDC and the Federal Ministry of Health of shipping positive and negative test kits and cartridges to Nigeria Navy Reference Hospital in Calabar, to violate the state’s COVID-19 free status.
Cross River is the only state in Nigeria that is yet to report any positive case of COVID-19. Nigeria has recorded 19, 147 confirmed cases with 487 deaths in 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
The accusation by the state was made the same day the lawmaker representing the Obudu State constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly, Godwin Akwaji, died of fever and other COVID-19 symptoms at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital Isolation centre.
Daily Trust reported that Ms Edu, who doubles as chairman of the COVID-19 response team in the state, said the move was unacceptable and suspicious.
She said the government will resist any attempt to inflict on the state a COVID-19 index case through the pretence of conducting training to test cases.
The government also added that it will not allow the training on COVID-19 to hold or for the materials and equipment to enter the state.
They wondered why the federal government and NCDC should use the Navy hospital and not the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital or other open federal facilities for the training.
Mr Okang said the navy should also resist attempts to be used to transmit the virus to the people of the state, stressing that the navy already had a case of land grabbing, which had strained the relationship with the state government.
However, the NCDC, in its defence, said given its mandate to protect the health of all Nigerians, it is obliged to state the facts.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria, NCDC has been leading the expansion of testing capacity for virus in the country.
The agency said it has been expanding testing capacity as part of the national strategy to scale up COVID-19 testing published in March 2020.
“We are leveraging GeneXpert equipment currently used for the diagnosis of tuberculosis.
“The use of GeneXpert will significantly scale-up testing for COVID-19 and improve turn-around time for results in the country,” it stated.
Nigeria is one of many countries around the world using the GeneXpert system to scale up testing capacity.
According to the statement, the expansion process is in collaboration with the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), and supported by partners at US-CDC, KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation, Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) and others.
NCDC stated that there are 400 sites in Nigeria with GeneXpert equipment for the diagnosis of tuberculosis.
“However, we have prioritised the roll-out of GeneXpert in states where there is a high level of community transmission and states with limited or no laboratory capacity for the diagnosis of COVID-19 at the moment.
“These are Abia, Adamawa, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Lagos, Enugu, Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Benue, and the FCT. Already, we have worked with NTBLCP and our partners to activate two GeneXpert laboratories in Kaduna and Nasarawa States.”
Mr Ihekweazu said the agency plans to roll out the GeneXpert testing sites for COVID-19 in every state in Nigeria.
“We remain strongly committed to our mandate to protect the health of Nigerians. We urge the public to remain aware of the risks of COVID-19 and to adhere to the preventive measures advised by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the Federal Ministry of Health,” he added.