Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Saturday marked 100 days since the country recorded its index case.
The task force added that in the 100 days of COVID-19 in Nigeria, the country can now boast of 30 testing centres as against three when it first recorded the index case.
The government is targeting having at least one standard infectious disease laboratory in each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
The Chairman of PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, led the team to the National Reference Laboratory in Gaduwa, Abuja, being managed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
According to Mustapha, who chronicled the events that have followed since the recording of the index case, said Nigeria recorded its first case of COVID-19 on the 27th of February, but the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, announced on the 28th of February.
The confirmed case was managed at a designated treatment facility for COVID-19 at the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Yaba, Lagos.
The NCDC deployed two Rapid Response Teams to Lagos and Ogun States respectively on the 28th of February.
Lagos and Ogun State EOCs began leading contact tracing and other response activities in the respective states.
Regarding the global situation, at the time, on the 29th of February, a total of 85,403 confirmed cases were reported (95.5% cases in China); 2,924 deaths; 49 countries affected; three countries affected in Africa: Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria.
Mustapha said the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed the world, uncovering crucial truths about the new coronavirus and its spread.
He said that the epidemiological summary was that on February 27, a 44-year old Italian citizen was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Lagos State. The case is the first to be reported in Nigeria since the first confirmed case was reported from China in January.
‘The case arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos at 10 pm on 24th February 2020 aboard Turkish airline from Milan, Italy.
‘He travelled on to his company site in Ogun state on 25th February. On 26th February, he presented at the staff clinic in Ogun and there was a high index of suspicion by the managing physician. He was referred to IDH Lagos and COVID-19 was confirmed on 27th February,’ he recalled.
The SGF said that the Federal Government of Nigeria initiated a PTF on COVID-19 to provide a high-level strategic national response to the disease in Nigeria.
According to him, the Federal Ministry of Health has activated an NCDC-led national COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate the national public health response.
‘At state-level, preparedness and response activities are being coordinated through Public Health EOCs in each state’ he said.
The SGF said that the PTF visit was in recognition of the role the apex laboratory was playing in response to the pandemic.
Mustapha said that the NCDC has continued to strengthen laboratory capacity nationwide and increasing access to testing was a major priority for Nigeria’s response to COVIID-19.
The SGF said that the virus has hit the economy and the health systems of even the most powerful countries in the world have been impacted greatly.
‘Before now, Nigeria only had about three testing laboratories nationwide for testing of infectious diseases. Hundred days of COVID-19 in Nigeria, the country can now boast of having 30 testing centres,’ he said.
A hundred days after the outbreak of the virus in the country, the SGF said he was impressed by the level of response to the outbreak by the NCDC.
He reiterated that government plans to increase the country’s national response, where 36 states of the Federation would all have a molecular laboratory.
‘The government is targeting having at least one standard infectious disease laboratory in each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory,’ he announced.
In his remarks, NCDC Director-General Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu said that in the coming months, the centre would continue to work with the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Medical Laboratory and Science Council of Nigeria and other partners to carry out laboratory-related research and validation, as Nigeria scales up its testing capacity.
He said that the National Reference laboratory was the apex public health reference laboratory of the country which has the mandate to coordinate the diagnosis of diseases of public health importance.
‘Since the first confirmed case was reported one hundred days ago, several health workers have been at the forefront,’ Dr Ihekweazu said.
‘We remain grateful to State Task Forces, Emergency Operations Centres, Rapid Response Teams, laboratory scientists and all health workers who continue to work very hard for national health security.’
He said that the NCDC remained committed to working under the supervision of its Federal Ministry of Health, and in collaboration with other Ministries, Departments and Agencies through the PTF, to scale up Nigeria’s response.
‘Our strategy is to ensure more people are tested, contacts are traced early to prevent further spread and confirmed cases are treated.
‘In the absence of a vaccine, Nigeria and the rest of the world must depend on public health, social measures and supportive management of confirmed cases.’
The DG called on Nigerians to take individual and collective responsibility by adhering to public health advice such as the ‘frequent hand hygiene through handwashing or use of alcohol-based sanitisers; use of face mask in public places and observing physical distancing of at least two meters.’