As Nigeria continues its fight to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, fears continue to rise on the ability of the authorities to put effective mechanisms in place to handle the situation.
The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, which is the agency at the forefront of the containment effort, has been working round the clock to ensure there is no further spread. It is also the highest authority when it comes to declaring figures and current status of the pandemic in the country.
Over the last few weeks, the agency has regularly released figures of cases, discharged persons and deaths from the virus since the first case was declared in late February.
However, Civic Media Lab has observed that the agency has stopped updating the number of screening and tests it has carried out.
The last update on this was on the 26th of March, 2020 where it clearly stated that it had done 846 tests across the country.
This included a column for the number of people it had screened as shown in Picture 1 below.
However, since the 26th of March, the NCDC had stopped it’s praised habit of full transparency on the number of screening it had done; subsequent public information shows the column has been removed and the agency became silent about the number of daily tests it carries out. Coincidentally, this was two days after this report by Quartz.
There is a need for full transparency at this point, as it makes the job of the NCDC believable and gives the public more confidence in their effort to stop this virus in its tracks. With more tests carried out, it is the best way to understand the true nature of the spread in Nigeria and also help the public take more stringent actions.
We call on the agency to resume its practice of full transparency as applicable in other parts of the world. Nigerians have the understanding that we do not have the facility and resources of the countries that have been hardest hit, what we have is enough time to prevent a larger outbreak.
With increased testing, people who have the virus can be adequately identified and isolated to avoid further spread. The Nigerian Government has announced a lockdown in the hardest hit states but this is not as effective as a full appraisal of our current situation. With rise in asymptomatic cases, there might be a lot of people still spreading the virus within their immediate environment, who have not been identified and isolated. This reality puts everyone in a lurch, hence the need increased and mass testing of people in Nigeria. With testing, carriers of the virus will be identified and isolated in line with best practices.
According to the WHO, the principle for defeating the virus is Testing, Isolation, Tracing and Treatment. Testing is at the very beginning of the process and robust testing is the only way super spreaders can be found and stopped.
With increased testing countries like the United States of America, Italy and Spain were able to get a full picture of how worse they have been hit and had to make immediate moves to avert further complications which has proven a lot more difficult at the moment. However, the increased testing in Nigeria has also revealed more cases (See picture below).
Here in Africa, Countries like South Africa and Ghana were able to ramp up testing to ensure they keep up with confirmed cases. As at 2nd April, South Africa had carried out 47, 965 cases and have confirmed 1462 cases, (See picture below)
As it stands, this critical information is nowhere to be found on the official communication channels of the government agency. Twitter, which is also a major communication channel for NCDC, has been deliberately avoiding specific details on the number of Nigerians screened for the Coronavirus.
âWe are working with stakeholders in the private & public sectors to expand testing capacity for #COVID19 in #Nigeria.— NCDC (@NCDCgov) April 3, 2020
We have reviewed our case definition to reflect evolving changes in our local context.
About 4,000 #COVID19 tests have been conducted in-countryâ
~ @Chikwe_I pic.twitter.com/nF9e6f6Fc1
It is the opinion of Civic Media Lab that Nigeria is not testing enough. Even without official data, the passing remarks of the minister alluding to 4,000 tests cumulative is very low. This is the daily test figures for some countries and it translates late to a per capita testing rate of 20 tests per million. For Nigeria to quickly avoid potential catastrophe, NCDC must create a clear strategy to ramp up its testing capacity to thousand per day. below)
The Civic Media Lab is a non-profit media innovation and research centre based in Lagos. Our work involves promoting transparency and accountability in government activities and deepening democratic participation through citizen engagement.
We hereby call on all authorities, especially the National Centre for Diseases Control to release all available data on the daily number of tests for the Coronavirus to ensure transparency and keep Nigerians informed on the current reality and the efforts of the government through its agencies thus far.