COVID-19 testing: Nigeria lags behind Ghana, South Africa, Egypt

Nigeria still lags far behind Ghana, South Africa and Uganda in the testing of suspected cases of the coronavirus, an investigation has shown.

Although the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has so far conducted tests on 7,153 persons, the figure pales beside the 50,719 tests conducted by Ghana; 25,000 by Egypt, 13,111 by Morocco, 100,827 by South Africa, 9,975 by Uganda and 10,784 by Kenya.

More is expected of Nigeria with its population of close to 200million, the largest in Africa.

The Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu-led NCDC said during the just concluded week that Nigeria currently has capacity to carry out 1,500 COVID-19 tests daily across the 13 molecular diagnostic labs.

The test laboratories include NCDC National Reference Laboratory and Defence Reference Laboratory in Abuja; Laboratory in LUTH, Lagos State Biosafety Level-3 Laboratory, and Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) in Lagos; Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo State; and University College Hospital, Ibadan.

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Others are: Virology Laboratory of Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) in Osun State; Influenza Laboratory at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano; DNA lab in Kaduna; University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital; and National Veterinary Research Institute, Jos.

Ghana recorded its first case of the coronavirus on March 12, 2020 two weeks after Nigeria’s index case but has now tested more cases than Nigeria. Ghana has 30 million people only.

South Africa recorded its own first index case a week (March 5, 2020) after Nigeria but has carried out 14 times the number of tests in Nigeria.

However, Ihekweazu says Nigeria has what it takes to do better than it is now doing.

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“We have quietly put our heads down, worked with our partners, developed our strategies, made our plans, and now we are ready to scale up testing in Nigeria,” he said.

“We aim to increase access to testing, as new testing modalities become available.

“First is to expand our existing laboratory network. Second, is to use labs that were previously used for HIV testing. On Thursday, we got our first consignment of reagents for those tests, for the HIV molecular testing labs. We will be trying it out at the National Reference Lab and then scale up very rapidly.

“The third strategy is to use the point of care tuberculosis testing, generally called GeneXpert. There are 400 of them across the country but not all of them are ready. We have 41 that are now ready to be used for COVID-19 testing.

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“It is not that the equipment is bad, it is just that they require a certain level of bio-safety. There has to be a functional bio-safety cabinet. We will start with the 41 and scale from there. We expect the reagents for the GeneXpert machines to come in by next week, and that will enable us again to scale testing.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Africa could well become the next epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. Also, the UN Economic Commission for Africa says the pandemic will likely kill at least 300,000 people in Africa and could potentially put 30 million people into poverty.

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