NCDC DG, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu
By Chioma Obinna
In April 2020, the laboratory strategic group had set a target of testing up to two million people in the next three months. To achieve this, no less than 50,000 persons are expected to be tested in each state including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
Also in May, during one of the briefings of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, PTF, Ihekweazu had hinted that there were only enough reagents to carry out about 100,000 COVID-19 tests in the country.
In the effort to bridge the gap in testing towards containing the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in Nigeria, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, says it is ramping up its national testing capacity from 10,000 tests daily to 30,000.
In an interview with Good Health Weekly, the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said more laboratories across the country have more samples to test and are now working close to optimum testing capacity. However, Ihekweazu urged the 36 states and the Federal capital territory, FCT, to strengthen their sample collection.
Purchasing of reagents
In the last few months, we have worked very hard to establish a supply chain for laboratory supplies in Nigeria.
It is not a problem of purchasing reagents, but of identifying suppliers that can provide the country with regular supplies to meet the country’s needs and transporting these in a timely manner.
Currently, the demand for these reagents is higher than the supply across the world. While this is one of the biggest challenges of this pandemic, we have received strong support from WHO, Africa CDC, WAHO, UNICEF, and other partners to ensure that we have timely access to the reagents and supplies we need.
Access to reagents
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control with support from our partners continues to develop innovative strategies to ensure that we have access to reagents and supplies that we need for testing. It is an ongoing process that cannot be defined only by the number of reagents that have been purchased.
Charge to the states
We have charged States to strengthen their sample collection. This means some of our laboratories have more samples to test and are now working close to optimum testing capacity. Our supply chain is better than it was at the beginning of the outbreak, and the lack of reagents or supplies has not affected testing in any part of the country in the last one month.
Nationwide testing capacity
Currently, we have 30 molecular laboratories with PCR capacity to test for COVID-19 across the country. All laboratories have a combined minimum capacity to test 10,000 samples daily. Laboratories such as the NCDC National Reference Laboratory have a higher capacity as we have high throughput systems to test up to 3,000 samples daily while some others have a lower capacity of 200-500 samples daily.
At the moment, we have an average of 1,500 samples tested daily across the country. This is way below our current testing capacity. While this has increased in the last two weeks, our target is to reach at least 30,000 samples tested daily.
The success of this target depends largely on States and individuals. We urge States to collect more samples and individuals to report to the appropriate authorities if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
The several States have worked with partners to establish sample collection sites and other approaches for sample collection.
This is an excellent step and we urge all States to own these targets- we can only know the true burden of COVID-19 if we test more samples.
Latest update of cases
In the COVID-19 situation report released by the NCDC for 7th June 2020, Nigeria had conducted a total of 78,244 tests. From the report, Nigeria conducted 373 tests per million population and recorded a total of 12,486 confirmed cases with 354 deaths.
In comparison, according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, Coronavirus Resource Centre, South Africa conducted 15,526 tests per million population to record 48,285 cases / 998 deaths while Ghana with 9,638 cases / 44 deaths have done 7,533 tests per million population.
Nigeria recorded 2 deaths per million population, compared to South Africa’s 17 and Ghana’s 1.
According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, Africa has just 1.5 percent of the world’s reported COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of deaths.