Controversies trail COVID-19 management as govt changes dead patient’s status from positive to negative
•Residents allege fabrication of infection figures
SUBAIR MOHAMMED, in this story, speaks with all sides in the controversies over COVID-19 management in Lagos.
THE Lagos State government stoked further controversies on Thursday as it recanted its earlier statement on the COVID-19 status of a 32-year-old Dubai returnee who was announced as having died of coronavirus.
The government, in its latest pronouncement on the case, said the outcome of the deceased’s COVID-19 test “is negative.”
As these controversies deepened, some residents have expressed misgivings about the infection figures being proclaimed by the government, while the authorities ruled out any mischief in their efforts to stem the tide of the pandemic in the state.
The state Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, made the clarification on the deceased Dubai returnee’s status through his verified Twitter account handle on Thursday night.
“I hereby inform the general public that the Nigerian who recently returned from Dubai as part of a group of returnees who were placed in a #COVID-19 isolation programme in Lekki, developed complications and was transferred to one of our facilities where he died.
“Because of the sudden nature of his demise and without any prior knowledge of his multiple preexisting conditions, it was presumed to be a COVID-19-related death, pending confirmation by COVID-19 Gold standard test.
“This presumptive attribution is a precaution to ensure the safe clinical management of the patient and subsequent handling of the corpse.
“The definitive COVID-19 gold standard test has turned out to be negative for the COVID-19 infection, and his death is no longer considered to have been attributable to COVID-19,” he said.
He, however, noted that with the confirmation of the deceased COVID-19 test being negative, the number of COVID-19 deaths in Lagos now stands at 33.
Abayomi had on May 12 announced that the 32-year-old Dubai returnee died from COVID-19 infection due to his underlying conditions.
Abayomi had said that “death of the deceased makes the number of deaths recorded from COVID-19 in Lagos to be 34.”
Similar to the story of the Dubai returnee is the controversial case of a 35-year-old lotto agent, Solomon Apashe.
After persistent battle with tuberculosis, a memorial service was recently held on Bola/Willoughby Street, in Ebute Metta (East) of the Lagos Mainland Local Government for the lotto agent, 35-year-old Solomon Apashe, who died in the early hours of Thursday, 30 April, 2020.
Apashe, according to Tunde Akorede, a co-trader in Ebute Metta, was a known tuberculosis patient that suffered pain in the chest, general fatigue and chronic coughing of phlegm and blood. Akorede claimed that Apashe lived with the infectious disease for three years before he died at the age of 20. He, however, expressed shock at the sudden twist in the cause of his death, which he alleged officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Health tagged as COVID-related.
According to him, Apashe would have survived the tuberculosis if the ministry had been “fair enough” and treated his actual ailment instead of keeping him in isolation for seven days. Akorede disclosed to Saturday Tribune that Apashe complained of maltreatment at the isolation centre before he died three days after he was released. Explaining the event that led to the slip-up in his health condition, Akorede queried the decision to “free” Apashe from the Infectious Disease Centre, Yaba, where he was kept. Rather than treating him for tuberculosis, he said they treated him as a COVID-19 patient and let him off the isolation centre to die at home.
He said: “On that fateful day, Solomon had difficulty breathing with an intense cough. He was so weak and fragile. He was a lotto agent and, therefore, couldn’t afford the cost implication of getting himself treated for the tuberculosis. I, therefore, advised him to visit the Ebute Metta Primary Health Centre which he did. He immediately left for the health centre, from where he was referred to the Infectious Disease Centre in Yaba. There, he told us his blood sample was collected to be screened for COVID-19 infection and he was told to return three days for the result of his test. But on the third day, he was too weak to return to the IDH to collect his result. So, they came to the market and took him away without telling us the outcome of the test conducted on him. They held him at the IDH facility and as we were later told that he was treated as a coronavirus patient.
“While at the IDH, Solomon called us on the second day to request for an extra clothing and N1,000 to feed. He said the clothe he wore the previous day to the centre was said to be infected and was consequently burnt. I asked him over the phone, ‘did you test positive for coronavirus?’ He said he did not know but he was kept in a room with other people. But what I observed was that he sounded healthier and his breathing was stable unlike his condition before he was taken away. Before he left for the IDH, he couldn’t speak and he coughed persistently. Four days later, Solomon called again that we should come and take him away from the centre. We asked him why. This was when he narrated what he had been facing at the centre.
“He told us they treated him like a victim of coronavirus without showing him the result of the test he did. He alleged being neglected by officials of the centre who concentrated on the rich patients whose relatives brought gift items and fruit juice to the centre. He said he agreed to stay with them because he felt his tuberculosis would be treated as he knew he had no coronavirus. But when his condition worsened as a result of the neglect, he flared up and told them to discharge him since he wasn’t a carrier of the virus. After his complaint and expression of anger, he told us a doctor came to him and administered some drugs which relieved him of his cough. That night, he said he slept well. So, the following morning, he called again that he had been discharged after seven days at the centre in the midst of coronavirus patients.
“He said he was asked to go home with five packs of fruit juice which he rejected based on his failing health but he came home with a pack of the food drink. His condition deteriorated three days after he was discharged from the IDH. But the need to survive made him to resume at his duty post that early morning and requested for a plate of rice with stew. While eating the food inside his lotto kiosk, he began to cough. He coughed profusely and discharged blood from his nose and mouth after which he slumped and died. We knew he had tuberculosis and that he urgently needed medical assistance. But why he was kept at the IDH for one week without testing positive to coronavirus and without him being treated for the tuberculosis remains a mystery. The Lagos State government is interested in doubling the rate of infection of coronavirus disease in the state and cares less about the general wellbeing of residents. Perhaps Solomon could have lived if he had been treated before he was discharged. But the government is interested in coronavirus and not in other infections. Solomon died of tuberculosis which he had been battling since three years ago but we were surprised that he was declared coronavirus-positive. This was a huge lie.”
State officials coking up figures?
A sawmill operator at Oko-baba wood market, Ayoola Atanda, who was also screened for coronavirus by officials from the Ministry of Health, alleged that the government was falsifying the number of infected persons and that of patients discharged in the state. Ayoola, who said his COVID-19 test result, sent to him by the Health Ministry via his phone number, reads: ‘Your COVID-19 test was negative’, said it was disheartening to see that the state government, allegedly, lied about the health status of residents in the community. According to him, tests were conducted on 25 persons, four of whom they said were positive and the remaining 21 coming out negative. But he said he was shocked when “I saw on social media that the government had announced the total number of tests conducted as the number of persons discharged from the Yaba isolation centre.”
He added: “Five officials from the Ministry of Health came for blood samples collection and screening. Along with the blood samples, they collected our house addresses, age and phone numbers. Three of the five officials wore protective jackets and they conducted the test on 25 of us. They told us we would get our test results four days after. They told us we could have been infected with Solomon’s cough because of our closeness to him. We felt we were being screened for tuberculosis and not COVID-19. They did not tell us they were screening for coronavirus, neither did they tell us Solomon was positive for the disease. But I was surprised the following day when I saw on the official Facebook page of the Lagos State Ministry of Health that 30 patients who had tested positive for coronavirus were discharged in Mainland.
“How did they arrive at the number? I got a message from the Ministry of Health that I was negative and four other persons were told that they tested positive and the 20 other persons did not receive any message from the ministry. The four persons they said were positive still roam the market and engage in their businesses, although they all have health challenges they nurse individually. One of them has persistent malaria, another one has rheumatism and Solomon died of tuberculosis. They announced that these people tested positive for the virus and the result of this is that they are now being stigmatised. They make up scary numbers about the rate of infections in the state. If Solomon and the other three people tested positive for coronavirus as they claimed, why were they discharged from the Infection Disease Centre after seven days? One of these people, a Hausa man, has gone back to the North because his friends called his parents that he had tested positive and they told him to come home to be treated. Meanwhile, this was someone the officials earlier said was healthy and exhibited no symptoms of the disease. He spent three days with them at the IDH after which they asked him to go home but later declared him coronavirus-positive. Can you see the extent of lies being told by the Lagos State government?”
‘Coronavirus is an irrelevance’
When Saturday Tribune contacted Ayoola’s friend, Kunle, another person that was said to have tested positive for coronavirus but still plies his trade at the sawmill, he refused to speak on his alleged false result. Ayoola put a call through to Kunle and asked him to come over and narrate his experience but he said he was too busy at the waterfront to waste his time on such irrelevance.
But Ayoola has this to say about Kunle and others who were tested in the market: “When officials from the Ministry of Health called Kunle that he had tested positive for coronavirus, he lambasted them and terminated the call. The following day, they came to the market to meet with him, saying he had to test negative three times before they could declare him negative but he was not convinced and he was left alone. From what I have seen so far, for them, it is rather a trial-and-error situation. They consider everybody with underlying health issues as being positive for coronavirus. Rather than search for people that truly have the virus, they came to us searching for people with health issues who they later declared as coronavirus patients. The truth is that these persons have been suffering from rheumatism, malaria and tuberculosis for many years. They have been living with these conditions before the outbreak of coronavirus. The officials of the Ministry of Health insisted on having a large number of people before they could conduct the tests but they ended up lying that people have the disease.
“Let us agree that they have the disease, are they not supposed to be treated? If truly they have the virus, why did they allow them to go and mix with the people and endanger the lives of other residents in the community? Anybody that falls sick is considered a coronavirus patient. This is not right. The affected persons are being stigmatised in the market. The number of infected persons on the Mainland keeps increasing with false patients. I am not saying coronavirus is not real but the government is lying about the true state of the pandemic in the community. If Solomon truly died of coronavirus as they claimed, every one of us here would have been infected as well because we patronised him and shared cutlery with him. But here I am, negative for the virus.”
We are kept in the dark –CDA chairman
Reacting to the allegation of inflated rate of coronavirus infections in Okobaba, Tajudeen Quadri, chairman of the Community Development Committee in the area, said CDAs were kept in the dark as to the mode of operation of the state health officials. He said: “I am not aware of what you are talking about but I am aware of a Ghanaian who operated lotto business and was invited to be screened for the disease. He was later discharged after one week that he had no coronavirus. The state-owned television station was in the community to conduct an interview with him but he died before the interview could be aired. He suffered from tuberculosis and not coronavirus which was why he was discharged after being in isolation for seven days. There is no link between health officials and the CDAs. They come without prior notice and then screen residents and leave. If people truly tested positive for the disease at the market, then asking them to go home without having been treated amounts to exposing the rest of the public to danger. Once anyone tests positive, such a person should be at the isolation centre for further treatment.”
A mother’s story
A few weeks ago, a similar but unconfirmed story of doubtful coronavirus infection trended on the social media. Accompanied by a drug prescription form from one of the general hospitals in Lagos (the identity redacted before the document was posted on social media), the story, which centered on a child allegedly treated for head injury being listed as a coronavirus patient, had gone viral. It caused many to question the authenticity of admission and discharge figures emanating from the state isolation centres.
The viral post reads: “COVID-19 in Nigeria. Over the weekend, Friday to be precise, my neighbour’s son sustained a head injury while playing with his fellow kids and was rushed to the general hospital in my area here. The little boy wasn’t sick o, just a head injury that happened in my presence while we were outside discussing. On Sunday, I went to check on the boy to see how he was doing. He was already playing with other kids though his head was still bandaged. I started talking with his mom and she told me what now seems to be the new trend as regards COVID-19 in Nigeria. She showed me the receipt issued to her by the hospital. It was marked COVID-19, case 353. I was surprised to see that. She said when she saw the receipt, she asked the nurse what was the meaning of that? She said that her son wasn’t a COVID-19 patient. The nurse told her not to worry, that it meant nothing; that she was only doing what was required of her. So, she shouldn’t worry. According to the woman, she was still worried seeing that on her receipt.”
Saturday Tribune’s analysis of the form, which could not be authenticated, showed that the patient’s name was also redacted but the date reads 24/4/2020 and his age was put at four. On the right hand of the form is boldly written “COVID-19, 353,” suggesting that the boy was the 353rd coronavirus patient in that place. The prescribed drug is “Syrup PCM 5mls, 5x 5/7.” It was signed by a doctor.
Medical team leader declines comment
Dr Osinachi Ubani, head of the medical team of Mainland Local Government, which has the highest official number of COVID-19 infections in the state, said she would not be talking about the instances cited due to the sensitivity of the pandemic and the possibility of such an explanation being used for political purposes. Two Saturday Tribune correspondents independently engaged her, but she declined speaking to the issues raised in the residents’ stories, particularly on the allegation that state officials were cooking up figures for purposes yet to be established.
Dr Ubani said: “It is unethical to give out such vital details about the local government.” At a point, she said she wasn’t aware of happening at the isolation centre in Yaba despite being under her jurisdiction and when pressed further about the allegation that her officials were handling allocation of infection number in a suspicious way, she promised to return the second call, claiming that the background noise was affecting the conversation. The promise to call back after entering her car was not fulfilled as of press time.
In an interview she granted a national newspaper which was published on April 29, she had supported the idea of everyone being treated as a positive case until otherwise proven.
In the interview, she said: “Unlike some other diseases like Lassa fever and Ebola, before a patient starts transmitting or spreading the virus, the person would have to be sick but for COVID-19, a patient doesn’t have to be sick to spread the virus. You cannot say, ‘because I am not sick, I do not have the virus’. Based on that, everybody becomes a suspect. We are still exploring the prospect of it being airborne, even though it has not been proved. So, somebody may not have any symptoms at all but may still be positive and so long you are positive, it means you have the virus and you are capable of spreading it. Everybody is a potential suspect until proven otherwise through testing. We cannot make assumptions by merely looking at someone just because there are no symptoms.”
We don’t have fictional COVID-19 deaths in Lagos –Govt
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, would have none of the allegations. He said: “It is a lie. People are just telling lies. Why would anyone say that? If you notice it, the names of people who are being discharged were never mentioned, never. So, how did they know their names were among? Whoever lost a family member would never think or say that. So, the 33 people we have lost to COVID-19 in Lagos now are a fiction? Eh?”
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