The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Thursday raised the alarm over increasing deaths caused by rejection of patients in the country’s hospitals.
The PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, at the task force press conference in Abuja, lamented that despite the admonition of the Federal Ministry of Health, hospitals were still rejecting non-COVID-19 patients.
Also at the press conference, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control Director General, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, raised the alarm over growing rapid test kits black market in the country.
According to him, some organisations are selling “what they call antibody tests.” He, therefore warned that such “antibody tests” could not give valid COVID-19 results.
Nigeria currently has 8,733 COVID-19 patients and 112 isolation centres in 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory. There are 29 laboratories, where COVID-19 is being tested.
With COVID-19 cases rising to 8,733 on Wednesday, the task force warned that the government could not cope with increasing coronavirus cases.
We are recording more deaths over hospital’s refusal to treat patients, F G laments
But on Thursday, Mustapha raised the alarm that more deaths were being recorded from non-coronavirus illnesses in the country.
It attributed this to the refusal of hospitals, including federal institutions, to treat patients for fear of COVID-19.
The PUNCH had on Wednesday reported that a man, identified simply as Joel, lost his life after he was allegedly refused treatment by the Isolo General Hospital in Lagos State over fear of being a COVID-19 patient.
On May 6, PUNCH Healthwise reported that a female artiste, Bertha Mary Okey, lamented how hospitals refused to treat her brother, Sylvester Okey, before he died.
Mustapha, at the presidential task force briefing, said, “The PTF has received rather sadly, reports of continued refusal by medical institutions to receive and treat patients for fear of COVID-19. This has resulted in several unfortunate and avoidable fatalities and statistics have shown that there is a drastic drop in the percentage of attention being paid to other ailments not related to COVID-19.
“This situation is made worse by the fact that federal tertiary institutions have been mentioned among those rejecting patients for fear of COVID-19. This is not acceptable. We are saddened by this development.
“The minister of health has reached out to all medical directors directing them to continue providing regular medical services so that we do not end up with avoidable deaths. Truth be told, we are having more deaths from non-attendance to other diseases than even COVID-19.”
The SGF urged all the chief medical directors and private health service providers to attend to other health challenges, which had continued to confront people on a daily basis.
PTF to submit report to President on Sunday
The PTF chairman said further recommendations would be submitted to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in the next 72 hours after an assessment report on the eased lockdown.
He said, “Within the next 72 hours, the PTF will conclude its assessment on the impact of the measures put in place and further recommendations would be submitted to the President for a decision.”
PTF calls for attitudinal change
Mustapha stated that task force had continued to stress the need for a drastic change in lifestyle and behaviour because COVID-19 was long term and that the cure was not readily available.
He stated, “This advisory is based on the fact that the battle is long term and the cure is still in the distant future, nearest being towards the end of 2021. We continue to urge our citizens to follow these advisories diligently.”
He said that the PTF had not shortlisted three drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 as reported in the media.
He said, “For the avoidance of doubts, neither the PTF nor the Federal Ministry of Health has shortlisted any remedies. This can only be done after diligent processes and as may be advised by the relevant agencies.”
The PTF National Coordinator, Dr Sani Aliyu, said the task force would be focusing on greater community mobilisation by engaging over 800,000 volunteers.
Aliyu stated, “This strategy involves an aggressive campaign to ensure everyone in the community is armed with the information they need to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to protect themselves.
“It will empower communities to self-mobilise within their interest groups and collectively practise and enforce prevention measures.”
Aliyu said the campaign would cut across communities in the 774 local government areas at the grassroots by engaging partners such as the National Orientation Agency, the Nigerian Red Cross Society, the United Nations Children Education Fund, Jamaatu Nasrul Islam, National Council for Women Societies, Yar’Adua Foundation, Nigerian Interfaith Action Association, the UN system and many more.
At the press conference, the NCDC director general said there were organisations selling “antibody tests.”
He said, “It’s important to understand what an antibody test is. When an antibody test works, it only tells you if you have been exposed and infected. It doesn’t tell you if you have an active infection or not. Therefore, on its own, it is very difficult to use it to make a clinical decision.
“So, I would really encourage everyone, as we begin to plan to go back to work, whether you are an employee and an employer, to really focus on prevention.”
According to him, testing one’s workforce with the methods that are available will only show if one has the virus at present.
He stated, “It won’t tell you if you’ve had it before or if you will have it in the future. So, even if he is positive, it tells you, ‘Yes, he’s infected now.’ But if it is negative, it gives you a false sense of security around his susceptibility to future infections.
“So, it’s important that, as we open our industries and services, we really think about the measures we’ve continued to advise everyone to carry out and leave testing for the purpose for which it is there.
“There’s a growing black market on rapid diagnostic test kits in Nigeria. We have to be careful in what we buy, how we use it and how we interpret the results that it provides,” he said.
He also said the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, and his Jigawa State counterpart, Mohammed Abubakar, requested COVID-19 test laboratories in their states.
Firms seek PTF’s assistance to test entire workforce before resumption
According to him, the PTF has received demands from companies, which intend to test their entire workforce before people are allowed back into work.
He said, “We have got a lot of queries around rapid diagnostic test kits and companies intending to test their entire workforce before people are allowed back to work. So, I decided to use this opportunity today to talk about rapid diagnostic test kits.”
Speaking further on the RDT kits, he said, “Nothing will excite us more than if there is a validated kit available. But at the moment, we don’t know of any and, very often, we are asked, ‘Would it not be good to have a cheap test, a 15-minute or 20-minute test?”
The NCDC DG said, in the meantime, the centre was relying on its polymerase chain reaction testing capacity, which, according to him, it continued to build up.
He stated that the immediate target was to have one lab per state, adding however that those following carefully would see some states had much more than one lab.
Ihekweazu noted that, in the “next couple of weeks,” the PTF would push every state to increase its testing and collection.
He said, “The labs are ready. They have reagents. The entire infrastructure is ready. We now need physicians, public health practitioners and people.
“Citizens, if you’re sick and you feel you meet the case definition, please have the confidence to approach the public health infrastructure to find out if you have this disease or not.
“Only through doing that will we be able to manage it successfully and prevent further transmission.”
NCDC insists on Kogi positive cases
Speaking on the situation in Kogi State, where two COVID-19 cases were confirmed, the NCDC DG noted that Ehanire was in touch with Governor Yahaya Bello “over the last couple of days.”
He added, “I think everybody is working very hard to resolve this issue. There’s actually no dilemma in the two cases. They followed normal practice. These were patients that were referred from the Federal Medical Centre to the National Hospital. This is a normal referral pathway when you have a case.”
DG criticises poor sample packaging in states
Ihekweazu stated that so far, the NCDC had trained 880 professionals on sample collection, packaging and transport.
He added, “One of the biggest challenges we’ve had in testing is that the samples getting to the labs are so badly packaged and often have leaked out completely or come without forms that they, eventually, make a wasted effort.
“So, we’ve been working very hard to train people across the country. Yesterday, CACOVID (Coalition Against COVID-19) finally put N47m into sample transportation. So, the private sector is coming on as well.
“CACOVID is a collection of corporate Nigeria and they put in funding going directly into the private courier firm that is supporting sample transportation across the country. So, everybody is now coming together to make this system work.”
FG to use hotels, schools as quarantine, isolation centres
On his part, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the Federal Government would require hotels and school dormitories as quarantine and isolation centres because of a shortage of hospital beds.
The minister noted that there were four levels of COVID-19 patients ranging from those on quarantine with zero or mild symptoms to those that would need to be in intensive care unit.
The minister said, “We have sadly recorded 254 deaths, most of them are persons associated with other ailments, confirming the general observation that risks are higher for those with illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes and non-communicable diseases.
“We need to continue increasing bed capacity to match the probable number of patients, so that we do not experience horrific scenes of bed space shortages seen in some European hospitals.
“In event of overflow, we can require hotels and school dormitories to be prepared for level 1 which is quarantine, and level 2, is isolation of COVID-19 positive with zero or mild symptoms, to free hospital beds to be dedicated to level 3 which are moderate to severe cases and level 4 which is for the high dependency and the intensive care unit.
“I therefore call on activists and philanthropists to work with state governments to scale up non-pharmaceutical measures and beef up infrastructural assets for isolation and treatment in their states.”
Ehanire said Nigeria would review its participation in the World Health Organisation solidarity trial. He also stated that proposals for trial of local remedies for COVID-19 had been sent to the relevant research and testing agencies for scientific evaluation.
He stated, “The Madagascar herbs have been received at the Ministry of Health, and were found to consist of two varieties; one labelled to be for prevention and the other for treatment. Samples have been given to three agencies of the Ministry of Health and also to the Ministry of Science and Technology.
“These are normal processes for new preparations to be approved for use in Nigeria, and include toxicological and efficacy tests and clinical trials. Government will investigate all genuine efforts to find homegrown solutions to the pandemic.”
The minister said Madagascar’s drugs had been sent to NAFDAC, National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, and the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research.