As Nigeria battles the unrelenting COVID-19 global pandemic, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, provides insight into what to expect in the weeks to come. See excerpts of the interview, conducted by YUSUFF MOSHOOD via the email
With the rate of COVID-19 infection, what is your projection on when we are likely to reach our peak and how prepared are we for it?
There are various projections that have been developed, based on various contexts. With the increasing capacity to find and test more cases, we will continue to see an increase in cases in the next few months.
Our strategy is to test quickly, detect confirmed cases, isolate and manage cases to recovery and follow up with contacts to reduce the risk of spread. In the absence of a vaccine for this disease, we must continue to adhere strictly to directives from the Federal Government on non-pharmaceutical interventions such as closure of large gatherings and physical distancing. By doing these, we have a better chance of reducing the risk of spread of this disease quickly.
In preparing for the increase in cases, we are working closely with state governments to rapidly scale up the capacity in treatment centres.
We have also begun the review of protocols and guidance for home management of asymptomatic cases. This will be implemented when needed. We have scaled up our sample collection and transportation as well as testing capacity to ensure that cases are tested within the shortest possible time.
We are working closely with other Ministries and Agencies, including the Federal Ministry of Information, to ensure that Nigerians are fully aware of the risks and have verified information for decision making.
Recently, you said NCDC has commenced use of COBAS system for testing 960 COVID-19 cases in eight hours. Why are we not considering a COBAS system with higher testing capacity, like the COBAS 8800 version which is capable of testing 4,128 cases a day?
We recently published the national strategy on testing COVID-19, which details a five-prong approach for ramping up the national daily testing capacity. The document, which can be accessed online, contains a list of the throughput machines currently available in-country, including five COBAS 8800 machines.
We are working very hard and leveraging first on current capacity in country. We will continue to expand this, but recognise ongoing difficulties in the global supply chain for laboratory and medical supplies.
You said NCDC received donations of extraction kits from organisations and individuals after your tweet. To what extent have the donations solved the problem?
The supply chain of consumables for testing has been stretched beyond limit and several countries as well as Nigeria are struggling to access these essential items. The more we test, the more of these extraction kits we will require.
Following our announcement, we have gotten access to more extraction kits, which has enabled our continued testing. We will continue to work very hard to keep our laboratories running as we expand our testing capacity.
With the obvious global shortage of RNA extraction kits for COVID-19 tests, what extra efforts have been made to ensure availability in Nigeria?
Considering the fact that this is a global pandemic, demand for these kits has soared exponentially. Despite the constraints, we are working closely with partners and local suppliers to get as much as we can. It is important to highlight that SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, therefore, these are not extraction kits that have been previously available.
Despite setting up 15 COVID-19 testing laboratories, less than 20,000 tests have been carried out so far. How far have we gone now?
We update these numbers on a daily basis on our situation report, which can be accessed via covid19.ncdc.gov.ng. On the 1st of May alone, we recorded over 2,000 cases and this will continue to increase.
Are the various molecular laboratories across the country adaptive to different RNA kit brands, considering that you mentioned about four brands in your tweet?
For quality assurance, we have selected specific brands/manufacturers. In activating these laboratories, we have developed standard processes that are followed across the country. Beyond the brand name, the specification is critical to ensure they align with our testing needs.
Recently, Oyo State governor said out of the over 700 tests done, at least 300 results were being awaited. Is there a way results can be obtained faster than we have now?
There is a laboratory for testing of COVID-19 in Oyo State, which is the University College Hospital, Ibadan. This gives the state an advantage of a shorter turn-around-time. The staff in these laboratories are working hard to meet the growing demands for testing and we continue to support them.
Credit : Punch