Anxiety over more deaths, rising cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria

THE geometric rise in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the increasing casualties arising from the infection have continued to raise concerns among Nigerians. The deadly virus is still running riot despite concerted efforts to curtail it, crippling many facets of the economy as it passes the first 100 days of the index case in the country.

Among the questions fear-stricken Nigerians are asking are: when will the reported confirmed cases begin to reduce? Has the lockdown strategy by the government worked? Since there is no known vaccine yet to cure the infection, will the country keep recording more fatalities?

From the figure announced by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for Tuesday, the country recorded 663 new cases. By Wednesday, 409 new cases were reported, taking the total confirmed cases to 13,873. More casualties were also recorded from the virus, taking the total figure to 382 with 4,351 patients already discharged.

With the current development, the total number of states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), that have reported at least one confirmed case is 36, with Cross River State being the only state with no reported case yet.

In all, 166 cases were discharged on Tuesday in 13 states and 145 cases in 14 states on Wednesday.

Sadly, Nigeria recorded four deaths on Tuesday, one each in Edo, FCT, Kano and Plateau states, and by Wednesday, 17 deaths were recorded in seven states – Lagos (nine), Delta (three), Bauchi, FCT, Gombe, Ondo and Rivers, with one death each.

The COVID-19 situation report of the NCDC for Tuesday and Wednesday revealed that 85,375 samples had been tested to date, with 2,987 samples tested for Tuesday and 3,756 for Wednesday (including backlog), showing an improvement in the number of testing being carried out in the country, as the agency had increased the number of molecular labs available to test COVID-19 in the country to 33.

Nigeria with 382 cases of fatalities, including the four cases reported on Tuesday and 17 on Wednesday, showed that the country now has three per cent of case fatality rate for COVID-19, compared to the number of reported confirmed cases.

Nigerians are worried, however, that the actual casualty rate could be more than announced by the NCDC as the recent revelation from the fact-finding team of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 indicated that about 60 per cent of the 979 ‘mysterious deaths’ reported in Kano was due to COVID-19.

The figure alone is more than the declared number of deaths in the country as a result of coronavirus.

Another factor some health experts believe could cause a spike in mortality rate is the late detection of the virus in humans. They believe some of the cases that eventually lead to fatalities are reported late at the isolation centres or facilities for proper evaluation and treatment. Going by the trend globally and in Nigeria, a high percentage of casualties are elderly people with underlying ailments and some few immune-compromised persons.

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Another revelation from the statistics released by the NCDC is that the males dominate the figures, recording 9,117, or 68 per cent of the total confirmed cases, while females recorded 4,347, 32 per cent of the cases, with the age group of between 31 and 40 years mostly affected.

Dismissing the insinuation that Nigeria had recorded more casualties because it did not manage the response well, a health expert who preferred anonymity asked: “Will you say over 110,000 deaths in the United States and a couple thousands in Italy are due to mismanagement?

“This is a novel coronavirus; even the scientists don’t know much about it as information is unravelling daily through research and monitoring of the trends. There is no doubt that Nigerians are at risk just like everyone else. It’s interesting to see that most of the cases are mild, but that doesn’t keep us in the clear,” he told Tribune Online.

Statistics also show that Nigeria is now in the realm of community transmission of the virus as 72 per cent of the cases are due to unknown exposure. The lockdown and several measures taken by the government to curb the spread of the virus seem to have stemmed the prevalence of patients with travel history to COVID-19-ravaged regions, which stood at two per cent (289) and their contacts standing at 26 per cent (3,650).

Speaking on the possible reason for the increase in the number of confirmed cases, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, mentioned during the briefing of the task force in Abuja on Monday that the increase in testing across the nation is contributing to the increase in the number of cases seen in Nigeria.

The NCDC defended its response to the pandemic on Tuesday, stating that it had increased the presence of molecular laboratories in the country to 33, with three additional labs activated for inclusion in the NCDC Molecular Lab Network in Oyo, Akwa Ibom and Jigawa states, while labs in Kwara, Gombe, Ekiti, Ondo and Abia are in progress.

As it is presently, labs are already present in states with the capacity to test for viruses like COVID-19, with individuals trained to carry out these types of Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing with the right knowledge of infection, prevention and control and also availability of reagents given the global shortage and high demand.

But individuals to carry out the testing must have the right knowledge of infection, prevention and control, bearing in mind the case in a Kano lab over an infection that caused it to shut down for a bit.

Speaking on the idea being canvassed by some Nigerians that the NCDC should introduce Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) for Coronavirus the same way it is being done for malaria, the health expert said the RDTs are not validated yet, and that there is a possibility of giving false hopes and even aid the spread, especially if a positive person is declared negative.

Speaking on the ravaging nature of the virus on Wednesday, the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebrevesus, said “I have talked about humility a number of times over the last few months and I think it’s fair to say that this microscopic virus has humbled all of us.”

WHO warned that even in countries which have not seen any cases recently, there is no guarantee that they are not vulnerable to COVID-19. “If we stop following the key protective measures, the virus can come rushing back,” he warned.

Experts believe that the confirmed cases will begin to take a downward trend if the community transmission of the virus could be reduced to the barest minimum. They believe the lockdown strategy remains the best option to isolate those with the virus from others to avoid contract.

The health body said contact tracing remains an essential element of the response, adding that starting today (Thursday), WHO is convening an online consultation on COVID-19 contact tracing, to share technical and operational experience and innovations in digital technology.

Ghebrevesus said: “With almost seven million COVID-19 cases and 400,000 deaths globally, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal. We urge active surveillance to ensure the virus does not rebound.

The global health body warns: “More than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal. This is the time for countries to continue to work hard, on the basis of science, solutions and solidarity.”

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