Flattening COVID-19 Testing Curve and the Lure of False Hope for Nigerians

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While many may believe Nigeria’s COVID-19 curve is flattening due to reduced numbers of cases recorded daily compared to weeks ago, indications show that the country is actually flattening testing capacity curve hence creating a false hope among Nigerians. Martins Ifijeh

Many Nigerians were greeted with surprise last week when the Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu said the decline in COVID-19 cases experienced in the country was due to the decline in the number of samples collected across the states.

This was against the initial belief by Nigerians that the country has started experiencing a decline in the COVID-19 pandemic as daily recorded cases moved from around 800 to within 300 within weeks.

Ihekweazu had said during a press briefing in Abuja that, “We had a decline in the number of samples collected across states between the July 31 and August 2. This may be associated with the public holiday which led to a reduction in activities across the country. It is still too early to interpret a decline in new cases as flattening the curve. We are learning from countries in Europe and other parts of the world that a decline in new cases does not translate to being at the end of the pandemic. In most of these countries, they are experiencing an increase in cases again.”

While this has come as a surprise, especially since NCDC has said it has now grown its laboratory capacity for testing to over 60 across the country, the decline in sample collection calls for a serious concern as the daily decline of cases might be interpreted to Nigerians to unconsciously mean their approach to the pandemic protocol is just fine.

Sharing his thoughts on this, former Vice Chancellor of Redeemers University, Osun State, Prof. Oyewale Tomori said the country was far behind the pandemic instead of flattening the curve.

Speaking on Arise News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Tuesday, he said Nigeria was flattening the truth by not engaging in the number of testing needed to reveal the actual state of the COVID-19 burden in the country.

He said: “We are not flattening the curve. What we are doing is that we are flattening the truth. You remember the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 said during the Sallah celebration that there was no testing.

A week before Sallah, Nigeria tested about 11,000. What is more worrisome is that the number of positivity rate was even higher than before the Sallah. We are not making any progress as much as we should.

“The situation where Nigerians get their testing done and have to wait eight to 10 days until they see their result is ridiculous. Can such Nigerians remember where they have been to and who they have met? There are certain basic issues we need to tackle. For instance, if you have about 500 samples, when did you collect the samples? We are behind the epidemic because some of the results came in four days after testing.

“The low testing we are doing is because we don’t have enough
laboratories. This is because we did not prepare for it. There are about 300 to 400 laboratories in Nigeria that have been in existence that could have been repurposed, but rather we started building new ones, and right now we have 60 of such laboratories, where as we have about 400 old laboratories just lying there. Whatever we are experiencing now is the effect of the years of neglect of the health sector. For 60 years we have neglected all those things, and now we are reaping the repercussion.”

He stressed that the earlier Nigeria gets COVID-19 results out, the faster patients can be isolated and managed adequately.

Tomori also stressed that Nigeria’s COVID-19 data was adding to the problem, noting that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) does not know where 75 per cent of cases in the country came from if information on its website is to go by.

He said: “Nigeria’s data does not even help us in knowing where we really have problems. For instance, if you go to the NCDC website, you will see that two per cent of the cases came from abroad, while 20 per cent of them had contacts with those who travelled. It does not have a clue where 75 per cent got the infections came from.

“So this means something is wrong somewhere. If you don’t know where the infection is coming from, how are you going to do contact tracing? We need to be able to pin point who and who is getting the infection.

When your record show that 75 percent of cases do not know where their infections came from, it makes mockery of the whole thing.

“The numbers are rising. The attitude of people to the disease is worrisome. The locking and easing down has not helped. The numbers just keep going up. The solution to this is with the people. It is not the government. It is the people that will get COVID-19, not the government. Government won’t die from COVID. It is the individual that will die from COVID-19. Until we agree that we are the most important players, we will not see the need to address this burden.

“Lockdown or no lockdown, if Nigerians do not play their roles, the lockdown will not make any difference. What will help mostly is what the individual does mostly. Are we washing our hands? Are we keeping the distance?” he added.

Suspecting Nigeria’s COVID-19 cases announced daily does not reflect the actual numbers on ground, major airlines have added COVID-19 certificates to requirements before flying Nigerians out of the country, when airspace is eventually opened.

For instance, Qatar Airways listed Nigeria and 10 other countries as nations that must meet the criteria before airlifting them out of Nigeria. The other countries are; Bangladesh, Brazil, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Nigeria and Russia.