From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Friday assured that there are plans to expand the facilities of the National Reference Laboratory(NRL), Centre of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Abuja.
This is even as about 120 laboratories have been activated nationwide – 70 of them public laboratories, resulting in have significant ramped up of testing and case management capacity in the country.
Osinbajo spoke while on an assessment tour of the facilities at the NCDC NRL, Gaduwa, Abuja, accompanied by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Minister of State for Health, Dr. Adeleke Olorunnimbe Mamora; and the Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.
The VP interacted with the laboratory staff and observed operations at the molecular laboratory, HIV mega-laboratory, biorepository and other
critical areas of the laboratory.
He acknowledged and praised the efforts of NCDC staff and other public health workers, describing their efforts as heroic.
He noted that due to their diligence as well as that of experts across the nation, the country has expanded its public health response capabilities and is making a progress in the public health sector since the nation’s first index case last year.
Osinbajo while noting “that we have a critical situation on our hands currently with the increasing number of cases being recorded”, he however added that a lot of progress has been made since Nigeria’s first case was reported in February 2020.
“We have activated nearly 120 laboratories nationwide – 70 of them public laboratories – and have significantly ramped up our testing and case management capacity.
“We have expanded the footprint of our sovereign public health response capabilities especially at the subnational level and in areas where previously such capabilities did not exist.
“Not so long ago, test samples had to be flown out of the country for examination. This is no longer the case as we now have the capacity to process samples internally.
He said, “this very facility is a testament to the strides that we have made during a short period. While we are not yet where we want to be as a nation, we are most certainly not where we were at the onset of the pandemic.”
The Vice-President further urged Nigerians to continue to comply with COVID-19 non-pharmaceutical measures, urging all Nigerians to comply with the advice of “our scientists and healthcare professionals and to continue to take every measure to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”
He then assured that as a nation and people, “we will come through this period of our history as we have come through all previous seasons of adversity – by working together, protecting each other, believing in each other and committing to seeing better days ahead for our nation.”
Osinbajo reiterated the commitment of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to prioritise and strengthen health security.
During the tour of the facility in Gaduwa, the Federal Capital Territory, the Vice President was taken round the laboratories and also interacted with a select group of staff. He paid tribute to the memory of the late NCDC staff, Uche Njoku, who died in the course of service.
Minister of Health, Ehanire, commended the critical role of the agency in the prevention, detection and response to disease outbreaks.
“I am particularly proud of the significant growth of NCDC over the last four years.
“The Centre has shown capacity to develop and maintain an efficient and coordinated structure for public health laboratory services in Nigeria.
“The impact of the work being done at the National Reference Laboratory is not limited to Nigeria alone,” he said.
On his part, the DG of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, appreciated the vice president for his visit, and for opportunities to update him regularly through the National Economic Council.
Ihekweazu shared the agency’s journey with establishing the NRL, including the COVID-19 response and challenges.
“We remain grateful to the Executive arm of the Government for the strong political commitment to-strengthen health security in the country.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for stable, substantial and sustainable investment for health security.
“We were able to activate the NRL and three other laboratories for COVID-19 diagnosis in January 2020, because we had been preparing for the next pandemic.
“Nigeria must invest in health security for us to be better prepared for the next pandemic,” he said.
The NCDC boss disclosed that the NRL had also been recognised as one of the top eight sequencing laboratories in the African region with full genomics and bio information capacities.
He added that the NRL was selected as a regional reference sequencing laboratory for COVID-19 and other emerging pathogens.
The NCDC NRL was initially operationalised in May 2017.
Prior to this, Nigeria did not have a Public Health Laboratory for epidemic-prone diseases.
Since its establishment, the NRL has developed molecular capacity to diagnose yellow fever, Lassa fever, monkey pox, cholera and highly pathogenic viruses such as the severe acute coronavirus.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NCDC has led the activation of
112 public and private laboratories across Nigeria.