By Chris Bishop
The laboratory in the front line of fight against the deadly COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria’s remote northern state of Kano has closed down because the disease has struck down a number of its workers.
Kano – the hometown of Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote – has seen a spike in mystery deaths in recent as Nigeria battles the pandemic with scant resources. Former Nigerian aviation minister Femi Fani-Kayode tweeted a claim that 150 people had died mysteriously in Kano recently; the official figures say Kano has only 59 cases of COVID-19, but the government health authorities say they will investigated the mystery death claim.
These concerns from Kano were raised with the World Health Organisation at its weekly webinar on Africa. Sani Aliyu, the coordinator for the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 in Abuja, said small teams were struggling, with little money, to test and track data.
“This week the laboratory in Kano was closed in an incident where one or two members acquired COVID-19. We had to disinfect the place and ensure that there are adequate controls for safety. It will take three or four days to reopen it,” says Aliyu
Whatever the outcome of the Kano investigation, officials in Nigeria are clear that the fight against COVID-19 is going to be a tough one.
Nigeria was the first African nation to report a case of COVID-19 and many in the country criticize the government for testing a mere 10,000 people out of a population of 200 million.”
“The truth is we have to work with what we have we did start from scratch the same as South Africa had. We have tested 5,000 people in the last week so we have increase the rate of testing incredibly. Once we have more equipment we will be able to do more tests across the country,” Chikwe Ihekweazu Director General for Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
“People think of a dipstick test: Is it blue or red? But it is not, it is a very complicated level of extraction and analysis that takes six to seven hours to complete. It is very complex I would rather go little bit slower and get it right than go at speed and make errors.”
WHO officials agree that more needs to be done to build up equipment and skills to fight the pandemic; when it broke out there were a mere 30 ventilators in Lagos – most at private hospitals – and 360 in the country. WHO officials said another 100 ventilators had been shipped into Nigeria over the last few weeks.
“Everything we do right now is, one, to help us solve the problem and, two, to make for a better tomorrow. We are building people, we are building institutions and we are building to last and we may not get a second chance to do this,” says Ihekweazu. Bold words, in the face of a brutal pandemic.