COVID-19 Test: How Nigeria fails to meet 2 million target

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Number of samples tested still below 30,000 per day 3 months after

Nigeria is currently off-track to achieve its set target of conducting two million COVID-19 tests within three months. The ambitious target was expected to be met between May and July 2020, as set by the Federal Government as a  strategy to bridge the gap in testing and containing the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. In April 2020 when the target was set by the laboratory strategic group which is responding to the coronavirus outbreak in the country, less than 5,000 tests had been conducted overall. Towards achieving the target, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, said it was ramping up the national testing capacity from 10,000 to 30,000 tests daily. In line with this, an estimated 50,000 people were to be tested in each of the 36 states and in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. Statistics from the NCDC COVID-19 microsite of 20th July 2020, showed that only 212,201 samples had been tested in a population of over 200 million. This was just 21.2 per cent of the set target. Going by the target to conduct up to 30,000 tests per day, Nigeria would have tested up to  2,520,000 samples over the period in question. Latest data from the world meters coronavirus update, Nigeria currently has the 3rd largest COVID-19 burden in Africa after Egypt and South Africa which are 2ns and 1st respectively. Prior to April, Nigeria had activated only seven laboratories nationwide. As of July 20, 2020,  the number of laboratories increased to 57, sadly, the country is yet to test to capacity. In a reaction to the development, the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu said although testing is important, the two million targets is not immediately feasible. “The target is not feasible for now. Testing is important although in itself it is not going to stop transmission, it gives us a window into how well our control efforts are working. It helps us to know where we have peaked or how people are responding to care. “Testing is the only way we can know so we set an extremely ambitious target of testing at least two million persons in three months and we have got to a little over 200,000 and it is nowhere near where we want to be,” he explained.

Ihekweazu who explained that the target was not just for the NCDC or the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, but for all Nigerians collectively, said the aim was to get as many persons as possible tested. “How we achieve this as a country is essential. Other countries are moving ahead and we have to also show that we have the capacity to catch up, not necessarily to compete but to demonstrate that we can find a way of managing this outbreak ourselves. “The challenge now is not the laboratory capacity; we have the laboratories and the reagents and we continue to manage an extremely complex supply chain that will make sure the laboratories are functional. “What we need now are the state governments to encourage sample collection, obtain the right samples and get them to the labs, and we will test and give you your results. This is not an NCDC effort alone. “Many of the labs are owned by the state governments, some even by the corporate private sector.  We are going to push towards the target and  even if we do not achieve it the effort has led to some incredible progress for us already and we must keep pushing forward.” Lamenting that the COVID-19 outbreak had not stopped at the end of the three months, Ihekweazu cited the complexities of the testing process as part of the challenges, even as he noted that there is no single magic bullet. “We now have a stockpile of testing reagents and there is no more stockout in the laboratories, however, the sample collection has been a problem but many states have improved. It is a complex problem and testing is not the end of the road, we have increased logistics and procurement as well as political commitment.

“If we reduce stigmatisation, increase political responsibility and come together as a country, we can increase our testing numbers every week and bring deeper insights into where we are as regards this outbreak as a country. “What we have been trying to do is use technology. We have been working on a new platform through which people will be able to check their results themselves the platform is almost ready and will enable people themselves to get the results of tests that they have had,” he noted.