Nigeria: NCDC Prioritises COVID-19 Test for High Profiled Nigerians

(file photo).
30 March 2020

Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has been conducting COVID-19 tests on high profiled Nigerians, who demanded for it, but asked 'ordinary' citizens who also requested for same to strictly follow its case-definition rule for testing; a situation that has left many unattended to, THISDAY can confirm.

NCDC's case-definition rule for undergoing testing for the COVID-19 says for anyone to be tested for the virus, the person must have travelled into Nigeria from a high risk country, or must have had direct contact with a confirmed case, and, in addition to any of these definitions, the person must have had visible symptoms of COVID-19 before requesting for testing.

Although many of the high profiled persons who have been attended to by NCDC did not show visible symptoms of the virus, they, along with their families, staff and close allies have been tested, while many 'ordinary' Nigerians who may have also travelled to high risk countries or had contact with confirmed cases are been asked to wait until they have visible symptoms of COVID-19 before their samples can be taken.

Revealing this to THISDAY, an epidemiologist with NCDC in Lagos State, who preferred to remain anonymous, said NCDC does not have enough reagents to go round, hence he advised people to adhere strictly to the case-definition before being qualified for testing.

"However, there are occasions where we get directives to go take samples of a high profiled person, his family members, staff and close allies. We can't say no because that is the order from above. And you know on many occasions we end up wasting the reagents we do not have because these people may not really meet the case definition.

"For instance, in the case of a popular musician and his girlfriend, the agency wasted 33 reagents because it tested 33 persons around Davido. Although his girlfriend tested positive, the other persons all tested negative. These people did not meet our case definition, but what can we do," he added.

He also emphasized that in an ideal situation, what NCDC does is that when Nigerians call the toll free lines, they are asked whether they have travelled to high-risk areas; if they say 'yes', they are asked if they are having symptoms.

"For those who reply in the affirmative, we try to find out which kind of symptoms they have. If this doesn't meet the symptoms we are looking for, we tell them to access healthcare in any government hospital near them.

"If they had a contact with confirmed cases as well, we also ask the same questions. Once the person meets these case definitions, we come over to take samples."

Recently, social media has been awash with complaints of Nigerians who have requested for tests k home to her family.

A Social Media Skit-Comedian, Sydney Talker, has also complained of not being attended to after he allegedly exhibited symptoms of COVID-19.

He said: "A week ago I came down with symptoms of COVID-19, called NCDC and was told to go to any hospital for treatment. Till now the agency did not attend to me."

Sharing his thoughts, another staff of NCDC in Abuja, who also preferred to remain anonymous, told THISDAY that a lot of top persons in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja do not bother calling public lines, as they have their way of calling in for tests.

"Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends for more testing, you know we have limited reagents, so we try to ensure those who are tested are those who really meet our requirements. Many people call in but only a few are qualified. When we don't oblige others, they go on social media to say we are not working," the source told THISDAY.

Asked if politicians who were being tested met the requirements, he said: "This is Nigeria. They have their way around things. The decision to test them or not does not lie with us," adding that most of the complaints come from Lagos and not Abuja.

NCDC Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, had told Arise News Channel, THISDAY's broadcast arm, at the weekend that the agency does not turn away people who request for testing, adding that it has put a lot of things in place to ensure every call to the toll lines are responded to.

He also warned that those who came into the country from high-risk nations should self-isolate for 14 days, and that if they notice symptoms of the disease, they should reach out to the agency for testing and other protocols.

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