The Federal Government on Wednesday approved N8.49 billion for the procurement of 12 items to enhance the testing and diaégnostic capacities of coronavirus patients by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The approval at the 11th virtual meeting of the Federal Executive Council presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari was sequel to a memo presented by the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, on behalf of the centre held at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Speaking with State House correspondents at the end of the meeting alongside his colleagues — Ministers of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and Environment, Muhammad Mahmood — Ehanire said the procurement of the materials was part of the preparedness for community transmission of coronavirus which had affected over 586 local government areas.
He said the materials were to expand testing capacities and diagnostic capabilities of NCDC testing centres nationwide.
“This memo is as a result of Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 pandemic and special intervention fund for COVID-19 which is operated by the Presidential Task Force, it allocates this resources for NCDC preparedness. So we are procuring testing materials right from sample materials to other kits diagnostic in our laboratories systems, to be able to respond properly to community transmission phase.
“We have already made plans to have at least one sample collection center in every local government, minimum of of 774 and these resources will be necessary to go around the 774 local government areas to ensure that persons in rural areas and small towns are not excluded and to ensure that not only the big cities are the ones that are being attended to.
“So that is the basis for the memo. The cost is N8.49 billion to procure the items that are involved. There are a total of 12 items, the quantities involved are large numbers which will be sent out later,” the minister said.
On why the PTF was reluctant in introducing PCR (polymerise chain reaction) tests, by making available rapid test kits which makes results available in minutes, Ehanire said: “It is not that nobody is thinking of rapid diagnostic test, it is being used all over the world even in Nigeria today but the the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other experts, have said that this test is not very reliable in that it also delivered a significant number of false positive or false negative result.
“ So, if you go to a place where a percentage of test result can give you a wrong result, then you have to be careful. Whereas the PRC test, that is the polymerise chain reaction test is accurate and reliable. So if you want to know how accurate a person is positive, that is the test you ought to do, that is the recommendation of World Health Organization.
“Now, science is never certain, there are many ways and avenues by which the quality of the rapid test is still being improved. And as I speak to you now, the Medical Laboratory Science of Nigeria, which is responsible for validating this test, for telling us whether they are reliable or not, whether we should use it or not, they are varying such test now and they will give us their result, whether it is reliable enough or not reliable enough.
“There is the anti-body rapid test and the anti-gem rapid test. So I believe that within a matter of weeks and month, there will be one that will be accurate enough for us to reliable on.
“So, those who do the rapid test now, if it is positive you have to go and confirm with the PRC because the accuracy is questionable. Some of them their accuracy is 60 percent, which means that 40 percent will be wrong, others are 20 percent wrong which is why Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT), is not yet officially used in Nigeria.
“But, I personally believe that as they continue to improve on it within some months we shall be able to use it. Meanwhile we use only the most reliable one which is PCR.”
On the disregard for COVID-19 protocols at the All Progressives Congress flag off campaign in Edo State, the health minister said: “There is something the laws says, the law says you must hold election at certain time and then watch what the needs of health has brought forward. Nobody was anticipating that COVID-19 will pop up and the dilemma where INEC and the ministry of health face, is now is not peculiar to Nigeria alone, there are many other countries that are facing that kind of problem.
“Just a few days ago, Belarus held presidential election because their constitution gives them a deadline within which it must be held. Other countries have held elections, some have defied elections depending on how each country assess their own risk. And in Nigeria where the case infection rate is relatively low compared to other countries which is about two percent, globally is nearly four percent and then the weight of distribution the cases is not even.
“There are some states that do not have that heavy infection rate and others have high infection rate. So, you have to weigh the benefits, if you can manage the risk, because is the risk of about opening the skies, the borders, going to churches, mosques, markets – there is a lot of risk communications we are dealing with. But there are things that need not be like for example football match were people can crowd in the stadium, you can say this one can wait, it is not compulsory.
“In churches where it is more organized, if it cannot be, then you pray at home. For market, we gave advisory, make sure you put on mask, and ensure it is arranged in a way that you can control the crowd.
“The same advisory is given to politics and in some area is difficult like in cases of funerals. We gave the number of people who can attend or even a marriage, so the same advisory is given to all political parties, organisers and we are looking for them for the necessary sense responsibility to comply.
“But it is also difficult going by observation that, for people who are under emotions to actually follow the guidelines and scenes like what you described came up. But in places of worship and other kinds of gatherings, they follow the guidelines. So that situation where you are balancing what the constitution says and then start enforcing things that people will read another meaning into.”
Also speaking on the issue, the Information Minister said the PTF would continue to advise Nigerians on the need to comply with social distancing in public and at gatherings.
“It has been proven that wearing mask saves many lives and we will continue to harp on it that people should take personal responsibility.
“We are deeping our conversation with sub-nationals, governors and local government chairmen because, everybody must take personal responsibility. So our guidelines remain the same – where a mask, avoid mass gatherings, keep social distancing, maintain very good hygiene, wash your hands, use hand sanitizers.
“Because, as at today, there is no known vaccine or medicine to cure COVID-19. If everybody says wearing a mask is inconvenience let him try a ventilator, you will know.
“We all are opinion moulders and people take to what we say, it is not about those that went to campaign in Edo or those who went to bury Kasamu. It’s so sad that one of my colleagues said he went home and he was wearing a mask and they felt he was the one with the problem. In some parts of the country, they believe anybody wearing a mask has COVID-19, they don’t believe it. So I think we all should take personal responsibility,” Mohammed said.