CONTROVERSY OVER KOGI CORONAVIRUS STATUS AS 6 ALLEGEDLY DIE OF DISEASE IN STATE FMC

Two states, Kogi and Cross River, have no recorded COVID-19 case. However, Governor Yahaya Bello, last Wednesday, threatened to detain the head of the body’s fact-finding mission to the state. But global and local trends suggest that it is only a matter of time before they lose that status, write ROBERT EGBE and JAMES AZANIA.

 

Kogi’s and Cross River’s Coronavirus-free status is a good thing, right?  Not everyone agrees. There is worry that the virus may have already made landfall in the states, undetected.

NCDC’s Director-General Chikwe Ihekweazu hinted as much. Ihekweazu expressed frustration that states with unconfirmed cases did not submit adequate number of samples to the NCDC for COVID-19 tests.

He said: “We have looked at the number of samples collected from these states and we are not satisfied. So, we need to test more. But to test more, we need to collect more and the collection part is the responsibility of the states and their public health teams.

“You can’t hide this. Eventually, it will emerge. It is better we understand what is happening early than leave it till we start hearing stories of deaths.

“So, we are really encouraging the public health teams in these states to push out. There is absolutely no doubt that there are people that have pneumonia, acute respiratory infections in your states.

“Please collect samples, send them to us let us test and know whether you have this thing circulating in your state and mount an appropriate response. If it’s not, it’s not but we cannot know if we don’t test.”

There were four virus-free states when Ihekweazu spoke. The fourth, Nasarawa, recorded its first case the next day. The third followed suit leaving Kogi and Cross River.

The theory that the two states may have undetected cases of the virus is not an implausible one.

It ties in with the suspicion that Nigeria has a far higher incidence of COVID-19 than the test results show.

Long after the number of Covid-19 positive cases in the country had surpassed the 1,000 mark, Kogi State’s claim that it had yet to record a single such case has continued to draw scepticism.

Commissioner for Health Saka Haruna last week, in a statement, said Kogi would not give in to pressures to “announce fictitious case of Covid-19 positives.”

The statement came on the heels of reports that no less than six people infected by the Coronavirus disease had died at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Lokoja, in the last one week.

According to a nurse at the medical facility, the sixth Covid-19 fatality was recorded on Wednesday morning.

The health worker, who did not want her name in print, further alleged that an aide to the governor warned members of staff of dire consequences should the news leak.

Saka, however, maintained that as the Commissioner for Health, member of the FMC governing board and the incident manager for COVID-19 in the state, he has yet to be informed of any such fatalities in Kogi.

He said: “There is also a representative of FMC Lokoja in the state’s Squadron Committee against Covid-19/Lassa fever, and never for once was any such case raised in any of our meetings.

“First and foremost, it is imperative that the public realise that there is no state government that can deliberately put her people in harm’s way for whatever political reason, and the current administration has been scored high by local and international observers on health. We have and will continue to put the health of our people as first priority.

“We are not new to public health emergencies, even though the COVID-19 pandemic is, unarguably, the most trying the world has ever witnessed.”

 

Probe

The President, Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria (CRCN), Senator Shehu Sani, has called on the Federal Government to respond to issues raised by Kogi State on COVID-19.

Sani on his twitter handle, @ShehuSani on Friday, wrote: “The FG must officially respond to the issues continuously raised by the Kogi Governor on COVID-19.

“In times of national health emergency such as this, such a serious allegation should be investigated, confirmed or dismissed, but must not be ignored.”

Bello ordered the NCDC team leader to the state, Dr Andrew Noah, to go into isolation at the Kogi State quarantine centre, when the visiting officials shook hands with the state Director of Protocol, after introductions.

The governor said the step was to ensure that the laid down procedure of checkmating the scourge by the NCDC is adhered to.

The NCDC had sent a delegation of rapid response team to ascertain the true status of Kogi as a COVID-19-free state.

The team, led by Dr Noah Andrew, had arrived the Government House to present a letter entitled “Deployment of Rapid Response Squad,” said that the mission of the centre was to provide logistics to Kogi.

He said:  “We are here to support the state in shipping swab and samples and ascertain the preparedness of the state in fighting Covid-19.”

The governor said the state is highly experienced in fighting infectious diseases, such as Lassa fever, and that the experience has been brought to bear on fighting Covid-19.

“So far Kogi State has had 100 per cent recovery rate of all infectious diseases since 2017, owing to measures put in place by the Squadron Committee set up to fight the disease.

In spite of widespread death the world over, we in Kogi have had no confirmed case, even though there are many false alarms which turned out to be false.

“We have put all it takes in place to check any eventuality. Kogi State is highly experienced in treating infectious diseases, because of high Lassa fever incidents. That is why it is able to combat Covid-19.

“We have been able to sensitive our people in all languages spoken in the state. All 239 wards have been sensitised, three modern isolation centres have been set up, which are currently lying idle,” Bello had said.

 

The government accused the team of fleeing the state.

“It was drama today at the Kogi State Government House as officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control sent to ascertain the COVID-19 status fled the state.

The officials of the NCDC said they were sent to the state to assist in responding to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

The officials said they were not ready to be tested for COVID-19, and went back to Abuja,” the government said in a statement.

He added that why the NCDC officials feared being tested was a matter of concern to the state government, just as he called on the NCDC to come hard on its officials for violating its rules.

 

Mission unaccomplished

Minister for Health, Osagie Ehanire in a reaction to news that NCDC officials fled Kogi after Governor Bello urged them to go on the 14 days self-isolation said the Federal Government’s effort to support Kogi State in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic has failed.

Ehanire, in his daily Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing, said the team sent to the state returned to Abuja without accomplishing its mission.

He said new efforts will be made to engage Kogi authorities for a resolution of differences.

“We tried to send a team of the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC into Kogi, but there were some differences.

This will mean that we need to re-engage the state governor again and work with him and his team to create the conditions to which the Ministry of Health and the NCDC can complete their job,” he stated.

 

Breached agreement

Ehanire said an agreement was reached with Bello before sending in the delegation.

“The agreement we had with them after discussions with the governors (Kogi and Cross River) is that we should send a delegation to the states, just to validate the facts.

Of course, we need that for our national records and to be able to report to the world what the situation is in our country because by now the whole world knows that we do not have any record from these two states,” he revealed.

Ihekweazu said the assistance rendered to the state was not appreciated, lamenting thus: “You can only offer help where the help is wanted.

Yesterday (Wednesday), we offered that help but it wasn’t in a place where the help could be accepted. Unfortunately, that is what happened last night.

The reality is that we have had a great relationship with Kogi. We have supported Kogi State in every possible way. It is one of the first states that have an Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) supported by the NCDC.

I think on the long-term, the purpose of our existence is to support the states. They have the primary responsibility of the health security in their state,” he said.

The government has, however, declared its commitment in keeping up with international standards in protecting its people from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fanwo, during an audience participation programme, on Radio Nigeria, on Saturday, spoke on the level of preparedness of the state towards combating the Coronavirus disease.

Fanwo, who said the state had been complying with standards set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, expressed the determination of the government to continue operating along global standards to protect its people.

He said: “COVID-19 is a global pandemic and there are global procedures for it. The state has to follow these standard procedures in dealing with it.”

Fanwo said the Bello-led administration will always co-operate with relevant health agencies that are ready to assist in straightening the state’s health care infrastructure.

“As a government, we are ready to work with any institution that will help us in tackling the pandemic and in strengthening our health care infrastructure.

We are open to any sort of discussion that will not be in contravention to international and global practices,” he said.

He, however, called for a review of the sensitisation and publicity strategies on Covid-19, saying that the economy could still be accorded its rightful place of priority under the present circumstance and in spite of the scourge.

“Government needs to redraw the whole strategy around Covid-19 and open up our economy. We are consuming the whole lot of rice we have stored now; and when we are through with the consumption we have to resort to importation again, when we should be looking towards food sufficiency,” he explained.

He commended health institutions in the country on the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, and made case for better conditions in some of the isolation centres.

He urged the Federal Government not to relent until an end is put to the pandemic.