Nigeria: TB Test Repurposed for COVID-19, and the Reason Behind the #LockdownCOVID19

(file photo).
31 March 2020

Nigeria is looking to convert more than 300 GeneXpert machines used to tuberculosis diagnosis for use in coronavirus testing in three weeks at most, health minister Osagie Ehanire said on Tuesday.

It came as more laboratories are expected to join five existing labs--and two more testing sites opened in Ibadan and Abakaliki.

"With new additions to the case definition, persons with fever and either cough or difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath in the areas of high COVID-19 prevalence can be tested for the disease," he said.

"More laboratories will join the network of molecular diagnostic laboratories for COVID-19 in Kaduna, Kano, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt and Sokoto.

The announcement came on Day 1 of a lockdown on Abuja and Lagos that's deeply impacted residents in both locations.

Ogun was part of the states to go into lockdown but its own was postponed to Thursday over concerns about its preparedness.

The same day, the total number of people infected with coronavirus spiked to 135.

"The majority of persons from overseas and others were traced, as well as their close contacts. The high number of cases in Lagos and Abuja is because of their functions as a gateway for international air travel," said Ehanire.

It is believed the new cases are coming up because of airport and land border closures to restrict travel.

The travel restrictions are expected to confine new cases to infections that have already come into the country and are being transmitted from person to person, the minister said.

The Presidential Task Force on Covid-I9 was scheduled to meet later Tuesday to review activities and update containment measures.

Around 1,000 beds are being prepared for use as "immediate isolation centres" in Abuja, the minister said.

As many as 5,000 people who may have had contact with any of the 135 people so far who have tested positive for coronavirus are being traced by public-health officials nationwide.

"The strategy that we are still implementing is one of containment," Chikwe Ihekweazu, director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

"It means that we are still at the point when we think we have the window of opportunity to identify all the cases and confirm if they have the disease, bring them into care, confirm all their contacts, follow up on each of them, make sure that they do not have the disease, and for those who have the disease bring, them into care.

"This is a very tedious process, and we are following up about 5,000 contacts across the country."

The time needed to trace contacts is at the root of the 14-day lockdown ordered on Lagos, Abuja and Ogun.

It is to "free up the road and enable us to have the space to do this effectively," said Ihekweazu.

"This comes at some pain to many Nigerians in Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja, but it is a necessary recommendation in order that public health workers working particularly in Lagos and Abuja have the opportunity to reach all of these contacts and make sure that they are okay."

"With our effort focused on those that are infected and their contacts and secondly among everyone else, together we can control the further spread of this outbreak. But we really need everyone to support us, as we hope to use this small window of opportunity to see whether we can bend the curve, get this outbreak under control and get back to day-to-day life".

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