The Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) said on Tuesday, that testing for coronavirus (COVID-19) is no longer its problem at the moment as it now has 12 molecular diagnostic laboratories across the country, but that samples collections and other response activities are the major challenges to overcome.
The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, who disclosed this during the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, in Abuja, said asides the country having the capacity to carry out 1,500 tests daily, it is also planning to increase the number of samples collected daily in Nigeria to 4,000; with 2,000 in Lagos, 1,000 in Abuja and 1,000 for the rest of the country.
He said: “Never in the history of our nation has its entire future depended on actions of its public health workforce.
“The challenge right now is not the laboratory testing capacity, but how active our public health workforce is in collecting samples, identifying suspect cases, and sending them into the labs for testing.
“Our target is to get to 2,000 samples a day in Lagos, 1,000 in Abuja and 1,000 for the rest of the country.
“In under 4 months, we have now activated a total of 12 labs across the country, to bring testing closer to the people and to make sure that we have at least one lab in every geopolitical zone, and we keep pushing until we get one in every state.
“We have achieved this largely by leveraging on existing molecular laboratory capacity within our network and within some centres across the country. We now have a capacity to test 1,500 people per day across the network. We are not close to exhausting this capacity every day.
“The challenge is no longer with the labs, at least not now; the challenge is collecting samples from those we identify as suspect cases.”
Ihekweazu added: “Our priority is not only to increase access to labs, but to increase the scale of testing in the cities where we have the most cases. Over the past few weeks we have distributed sample collection kits across the country. We are also developing innovative tools to track all of that.
“Our challenge now is how to make the entire response more efficient. It is a process engineering challenge of how to make the entire food chain work.
“In addition to the work in Lagos, we have to replicate it across the country. State Governors and Commissioners need to focus on how to get teams into the fields, identify cases, collect samples, send those samples through the mechanisms that we have set up, and let us increase testing.“Right now the limiting factor is not the labs, the limiting factor is getting the right samples into the labs and that is our collective responsibility in the next two weeks.“We are establishing clinics in Lagos where people can actually drive-through and have their swabs collected through a special arrangement.”
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire added: “We have increased daily testing capacity by activating more COVID-19 capable laboratories and shall work with the private sector to outsource and diversify sample collection sites and also improve logistic support.
“Details of sample collection sites will be made known in due course. Increase in the number of discovered cases is the fallout of improvement in testing capacity.
“We are gathering more epidemiological information on coronavirus disease, such as understanding sources of new cases and planning new lines of action. We shall continue to aggressively pursue our policy to detect, test and isolate cases.
“We have early evidence of community transmission already, which reinforces the urgency of physical distancing, use of face masks, maintenance of hand and respiratory hygiene, as well as strict adherence to the lockdown measures and regulations as announced by President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday.”