Cape Town — There are more than 200 million people in Nigeria, and with only 873 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, questions are being asked about the country's readiness to fight COVID-19.
The comparison to South Africa, Africa's other powerhouse, is inevitable - that country now has 3,635 cases of the virus, and 133,774 people were tested.
Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, says he is "well aware" of the facilities South Africa has built up over the past 30 years.
"It is something we will now aspire to in Nigeria. Many lessons will be learnt here and in many countries across the world, but in the middle of a crisis is not the time to suddenly build up an infrastructural phase that you need 20 to 30 years to do. So we had to rapidly scale with what we have, and we have done so. In the last week, we have tested 5,000 people. We have radically increased our number of tests, and we will continue to do so. We are converting lab infrastructure at the moment - built for TB and HIV for COVID-19 testing. The only challenge now is the supply chain to bring what we need, which is a global challenge as well.
"Yes, we have been slow to start but those that understand molecular diagnostics know it is not a simple thing. It's a very complicated, often manual process of dilution, extraction which takes about six to seven hours on a good day. Like Sani (Dr Sani Aliyu, National Coordinator of the Presidential Task force COVID-19) explained, we activated a new lab in Kano and very quickly they had problems and we're with them to solve this."
Drs Ihekweazu and Aliyu are on the weekly COVID-19 briefing organised by WHO Afro and the WEF.
Another challenge Nigeria's authorities face is the 36 states, which are wholly independently ruled by governors.
"We have also had challenges in terms of fragmentation when it comes to cessation of movement. At the federal level, we've closed Abuja and two of the states in the south-west - Lagos and Ogun - but for the rest of the country, state governors have taken it upon themselves to have their own initiative in terms of cessation of movement and also implementation of other preventive measures. This is something that we hope to correct at some point," Aliyu says.
Like so many African countries who have either gone into complete or partial lockdown, the economic impact is of huge concern as a large number of population need to leave their homes in order to work and survive.
"We've worked with the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, (and) released 70,000 megatons of grains from the national reserve. We also provided about a hundred trucks of rice to be distributed across the country, relief materials - including in the IDP camps - as well as conditional cash transfers. It's a large country and I'm afraid this is probably going to be a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed from the socio-economic impacts side of society," he says.
Nigeria's first cases were in Lagos, and the novel coronavirus now affects 26 states, but Ihekweazu sees this as an opportunity for the state to learn and hopes that the knowledge they've gained will be transferred, quickly.
"We are running against time, we're under pressure from the population in terms of enabling the population to return to some resemblance of normal life. People have to live every day, to earn a living, but at the same time we're confronted with this scourge that is still on the escalation phase. So how to balance this will be a very difficult decision we will have to make in the next week."