Nigeria: COVID-19 Tests Below 1% As Status of 199 Million Nigerians Unknown

An empty road in Abuja during the COVID-19 lockdown of the Nigerian capital.
28 April 2020

The federal government has tested less than one per cent of the over 200 million population of Nigerians for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) since testing began in February 2020 for the pandemic, analysis of test reports shows.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is solely responsible for the testing of suspected victims across its laboratories. While records say it has tested 11,426 persons as at Sunday 26th of April 2020, the fate of over 199 million Nigerians who have not been tested hangs in the balance.

Nigeria has reported 1,273 cases as at when filing this report from the 11,426 tests it has conducted. It has recorded 40 deaths, 239 persons recovering from the disease with 994 others still infected.

Analysis of data mined from the NCDC and the Worldometer, a statistics tool dedicated to COVID-19 case records, shows that on Sunday, the global coronavirus cases had reached 3.012 million: while 1,917 cases were active, 888,045 persons had recovered and 207,860 persons have died from the infectious disease.

Why testing is crucial - WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) published an updated interim guidance for laboratory testing in March 2020, where it encouraged countries to conduct more tests towards identifying cases for possible isolation and treatment.

"Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical to tracking the virus, understanding epidemiology, informing case management, and suppressing transmission," WHO said in the document.

In terms of population to test ratio, Nigeria is below the threshold of testing for its large population when compared with other countries battling the pandemic. The 11,426 tests Nigeria recorded at the weekend after two months was just 0.01 per cent of the over 200 million population it has.

According to the analysis, it also signifies that unless more testing centres and kits are deployed, more than 50 per cent of the over 199m untested people may not actually get to run a test for COVID-19 in the coming months.

Among the top African countries battling the pandemic, South Africa has conducted more tests as it recorded 168,643 tests of its 59.3m population. From the 0.28 per cent population tests, it has detected 4,546 cases with 2,986 active cases.

However, in terms of percentage progress, the analysis shows that Ghana, which has a little over Nigeria's confirmed cases, has done the highest test per population ratio in Africa. It has attained a 0.32 per cent milestone testing of its 31.07m population. While it tested 100,622 persons, it was able to confirm the 1,550 cases from which 1,384 of them are currently active.

Algeria has the lowest testing rate for its population. Although it shares the 0.01 per cent testing threshold with Nigeria, it has only tested 6,500 people from its 43.8m population and has recorded 3,382 cases of which 1,449 are active.

Other countries with significant test figures are Egypt which has tested 90,000 people from 101.9m population; while 4,534 cases have been detected, 3,041 of them are still active.

Morocco has tested 28,416 people from 36.9m and has 4,115 cases with 3,285 of them active at present.

Over 10 countries in Europe and the American continents are top in the cases of COVID-19. The United States of America (USA) has the highest test rate of 5.470m test results but it is the fifth in terms of test per population ratio. Despite the figure, USA tested just 1.65 per cent of its 330m population; it recorded 987,322 cases with 813,126 active.

Italy has done the highest test per population as it reached 2.9 per cent threshold of tests for its 60.5m population on Sunday. It tested 1.758m people and recorded 197,675 cases with 106,103 still active.

Trailing behind is Spain with 2.7 per cent (1.27m) tests of its 46.8m population. It detected 229,422 cases and 85,069 are still on. Germany did 2.47 per cent (2.072m) tests of its 83.8m population from which it tracked 157,946 cases and is still treating 37,462 people.

Russia has 145m people and has tested 3.02m of them representing 2.07 per cent test rate; from 87,147 cases, with 79,007 cases active. The USA is the fifth in this line.

Brazil has the lowest testing rate of 0.14 per cent among the countries. Even at that, its test rate is more than Nigeria's despite having a similar population figure with Nigeria. The South American country conducted 291,922 tests from its 212m population and recorded 63,100 cases with 28,662 people still infected.

The second country with the lowest test rate is Iran which tested 0.51 per cent (432,329) people from its 84m population; 14,733 persons are still battling the disease from the 91,472 recorded cases.

France is the third-lowest with 0.71 per cent (463,662) test rate from a 65.3m population. It has 162,100 cases and 94,341 of them are still active.

The United Kingdom is at 0.98% test rate after testing 669,850 people from 67.9m population. From the 152,840 confirmed cases, 131,764 are undergoing treatment. Turkey has 84.3m people and has tested 898,742 of them (1.06%), recorded 110,130 cases with 78,135 active cases as at Sunday.

Nigeria running out of test kits - NCDC

There are fears over a dip in the testing rate for Nigeria as the Director-General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, on Sunday said Nigeria was desperately in need of more ribonucleic acid COVID-19 test kits.

Dr Ihekweazu has been the DG of NCDC since the 15th of August 2016. In a tweet, he said this was due to an increase in the expansion of test centres. There are 15 centres for COVID-19 including new centres at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto.

"We're desperately looking for more RNA extraction kits as we expand #COVID19 testing. Product: Total viral RNA extraction kits (preferably spin column and with a lysis buffer). Manufacturers: Qiagen, ThermoFischer, SeeGene, Inqaba, LifeRiver etc," Ihekweazu tweeted.

Daily Trust also reports that in spite of his assurance that the Kano NCDC laboratory test centre would reopen on Friday, after a two day closure over exhaustion of test kits, that did not happen.

But President Muhammadu Buhari's aide on New Media, Bashir Ahmad on Monday said the Centre which is at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH) "reopens today (Monday) and resumes work immediately, NCDC says".

Nigerians react

The revelation about looming shortage in test kits raised reactions from Nigerians as many urged the authorities at the helm of the COVID-19 pandemic battle to look the way of Senegal.

Ola'Jide Chibunnam Obe on Twitter said NCDC should see reports of how Senegal invented a $1 test kit and $60 ventilator. "I want to suggest if you can liaise with Senegal to increase Nigeria's testing capacity too," he said.

"Can you collaborate with Senegal's disease control? They have developed a cheaper test kit, just a dollar as reported by Aljazeera News," said Baba Shehu, another respondent.

Also, Paul Gyikatdah Gabriel urged the authorities to look inwards. He said: "We can't continue to depend on imported medical consumables. Our research institutes need to be up and doing, particularly in this period of the pandemic."

This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its COVID-19 Reality Check project.

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