By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
Federal government has warned that it would henceforth take steps to close any hospital that goes into treatment of Covid-19 patient without proper accreditation.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who gave the warning during the media briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 on Thursday, said the focus now is to carry out more community testing and social mobilisation at the grassroots to ensure physical distancing.
He said that government will push out more messages and advisories on the use of masks or improvised face coverings like handkerchiefs or scarves for the mouth and nose, to reduce risk of transmission.
“I shall use this opportunity to again strongly advise health professionals against private or secret management of people who have COVID-19 outside of accredited health facilities. We cannot afford avoidable morbidity and mortality.
“Private facilities must obtain accreditation to treat this highly infectious disease. Practitioners engaging in unauthorised treatment of COVID-19, run the risk of being shut down for decontamination,” he said.
The minister described the latest Covid-19 fatality that occured in Lagos which claimed the life of a medical professional, as very unfortunate.
He said that this was why government had been consistent in cautioning health workers to adhere to all instructions and regulations and to always utilise personal protective equipment (PPE); while maintaining a high index of suspicion for COVID-19.
“I want to express my condolences to the family. This highlights the risk to health workers in this COVID-19 response. Patients with mild symptoms are still very highly infectious, and mild symptoms in one person could be deadly infection in another. “That is why we recommend the suspension of close contact between grandchildren and grandparents, at this time. Our valuable health workers are urged to adhere to all government instructions and regulations; always utilise personal protective equipment (PPE); maintain a high index of suspicion for COVID-19; and protect yourselves, your loved ones and your colleagues,” he said.
Ehanire gave an update on the rate of spread of the Coronavirus as at noon on Thursday as 407 confirmed cases with 99 persons discharged from treatment centres after testing negative twice.
“As of today, 16th of April, 2020, a total of 407 people have been confirmed to have COVID-19, 99 patients have been discharged and 12 deaths have been recorded in Nigeria, all with comorbidities. The 34 new cases confirmed are distributed as follows: 18 in Lagos, 12 in Kano, 2 in Katsina, and 1 each in Delta and Niger States,” he said.
The minister said the national testing capacity had been increased to 3,000 per day in 13 molecular laboratories nationwide activated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
He further said that the target this week was to significantly increase the national testing capacity further, adding that two more laboratories are scheduled to come on stream in Borno and Sokoto states.
Ehanire again stated that the revised case definition for testing includes all patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, contacts of people confirmed to have COVID-19, with fever and respiratory tract symptoms and persons with fever and respiratory tract symptoms of unknown cause.
On concerns about stigmatization, the minister said that COVID-19 outbreak had provoked social stigma and discrimination against anyone thought to have been in contact with the virus as well as people of certain backgrounds.
He regretted that those with the disease, their caregivers, family, friends and communities, were often labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, and treated poorly because of a disease.
The minister said that stigma could prompt social isolation of persons or groups and drive people to hide the illness, thus preventing them from seeking health care immediately.
“This could cause a situation where the virus is more likely to spread and increase the difficulty of controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. We must not stigmatise persons who have recovered from COVID-19,” he said.
The Director General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu in his briefing cautioned Nigerians to stop acts of stigmatization against persons that test positive to Covid-19.
He appealed to Nigerians not to cast aspersion or deride people infected with Covid-19 as such behaviour was capable of derailing efforts of the government to drastically curtail the disease.
“If indeed Nigerians are desirous of getting over the present situation and allowing businesses to return to normalcy, then everyone will have play their role in encouraging and supporting persons with proven symptoms to go and get tested,” he said.
Regarding the rate of testing for the virus, Ihekweazu said that NCDC had so far tested 7,000 persons in the country since the outbreak.
He said that the centre will be issuing weekly totals every Friday evening to keep Nigerians updated on the progress made to test all suspected cases of Covid-19 infection and their contacts.
NCDC boss also said that the centre was making efforts to improve on the speed and testing capacity in the next few days, adding that two more laboratories in Borno and Sokoto will be activated to bring the total number of the facilities to 15 across the country.
Speaking on the new policy on use of face mask, Ihekweazu said that going forward government will ensure that people wear face masks for protection while at public places like the market where practice of social distancing may not be practicable.