The Federal and State Governments must increase their testing capacity in order to have a full picture of the country’s COVID-19 pandemic, the coalition of labour and civil society groups working on the impact of COVID-19 across Nigeria said on Sunday.
The group, Alliance for Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, led by prominent lawyer and human rights activists, Femi Falana, said without mass and effective testing of Nigerians, the daily figures released by the National Centre for Disease Control would fall short of representing the actual extent of the outbreak.
Nigeria currently has testing capacity for 1,500 people, which is one of the lowest per average in the world.
“Nigeria is far from knowing her real coronavirus pandemic status. The total number of Nigerians confirmed positive as at last week was about 4,300. This does not appear to reflect the reality given the poor public access to testing. It is unfortunate that Nigerian testing capacity is lower than what is obtainable in Egypt, Ghana and South Africa,” ASCAB said in a statement signed by the group’s Secretary for Publicity, Adewale Adeoye.
The group said the various authorities have effectively enforced the lockdown while in many cases government officials break the no-travel and social distancing rules.
The group said: “We cannot claim to know the average number of people that have contracted coronavirus in Nigeria. The testing capacity for 200 million people is very poor. Brazil tests about 8,000 people in just one day. It means in 10 days, Brazil tests 80,000 people, almost three times the number of tests carried out in 60 days.
“This continues to raise fundamental issues about how long Nigerians will live with the virus.”
The group said with the attitude of the Federal and State Governments to COVID-19, the second and third waves of infections in Nigeria are almost certain unless drastic steps are taken to improve the current lowly reputation of the country.
It commended health officials across the country for their bravery and rare sacrifices at a difficult moment in Nigeria’s history.
ASCAB regretted that for the past few weeks, private and public hospitals have been sending patients away for fear that they may have contracted coronavirus raising the prospect of fatalities unrelated to COVID-19 now and in the nearest future.
The group said access to medicare by millions of Nigerians continues to suffer unimaginable setbacks since the lockdown began.
ASCAB said Nigeria is on the lowest rung of the ladder when compared with other African countries.
The group said: “For instance, Uganda has 60,000 tests amidst shortages of test kits raised by the Uganda Virus Research Institute. Uganda population is 45,534,716. Ghana already tested 160,000 samples so far. Ghana population is 30,984,320. South Africa as of this month had 439,559 total tests, 14,355 confirmed cases and 261 deaths. South African’s population is 59,212,004.
“The spike in cases has been attributed to the clearing of a backlog of samples in laboratories.
“In South America, Brazil, Nigerian contemporary has processed some 338,000 tests in official labs as at last week according to the Health Ministry. Another 145,000 tests are awaiting analysis. Brazil has a population of 212,368,566.
“In Nigeria, 32,942 tests have been carried out so far in a population of 200 million people.”
The group said it is alarmed by the warning from the United Nations Children and Education Fund that hundreds of Nigerian children may die daily due to the neglect of primary healthcare.
ASCAB said given the similarity between COVID-19 and malaria symptoms, many Nigerians stand at a peril of death.
The group recalls that there are estimated 100 million malaria cases in Nigeria alone with over 300,000 deaths per year, which contributes some 11 per cent of maternal mortality in Nigeria.
It added: “Nigeria is also plagued by Lassa fever endemic. Between January 9 and February this year some 472 laboratory confirmed cases including 70 deaths with a fatality ratio of 14.8% in 26 of the 36 states of the Federation.
“The reality is that more people are likely to die from diseases like malaria and Lassa Fever since many of them may not have access to medicare given the current practice of private and public hospitals sending patients back home for fear of COVID-19.”
The group said the problem has been compounded by the lack of adequate protective mediwears for health workers.
“This is the time for Federal and State Governments to provide protective gears for all health workers. Private hospitals must be made to comply with best global practices by providing their workers with necessary protective garments.”
The group urged the governments to run inclusive anti-COVID-19 policies that will involve the Nigerian Medical Association, Nigerian Nurses and Midwives Association and the civil society in the collective drive to end the COVID-19 pandemic.