Kamarudeen Ogundele, Adelani Adepegba, Ade Adesomoju, Tunde Ajaja, Olaleye Aluko and Tobi Aworinde
The Federal Government may be able to increase its weekly COVID-19 testing by 9,100 following its readiness to repurpose the tuberculosis GeneXpert machines already deployed in all the states and the Federal Capital Territory, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in its ‘National Strategy to Scale Up Access to Coronavirus Disease Testing in Nigeria’ posted on its website noted that the objective of planning to repurpose the tuberculosis machines were to decentralise and speed up testing across the country and strengthen national surveillance for COVID-19.
In the document, the NCDC explained that the country has 407 GeneXpert instruments deployed in 399 health facilities across the country, for use as first-line testing for TB diagnosis. It, however, noted that the United States-based Food and Drug Administration had granted the manufacturer, Cepheid, Emergency Use Authorisations for the use of the instruments and specially designed cartridge in testing for COVID-19.
The NCDC, which is the coordinating agency for the COVID-19 response in the country, said given that “every state of the federation including the FCT has at least five GeneXpert sites, at least one site in each state will be repurposed for COVID-19 testing.”
It noted that with the GeneXpert machines, each of which could test 24 samples daily, it is targeting 1,300 tests per day with ability to return test results same day, and since the NCDC conducts tests every day of the week, Nigeria could therefore increase its weekly testing by 9,100.
The NCDC added, “There are also available in-country two mobile laboratories equipped with two GeneXpert instruments each. These will be deployed as needed to support COVID-19 testing surge in target states.
“The planned decentralised testing using GeneXpert will enable states to test low volume samples (1–24 samples daily) with same day return of results, while bulk samples will be referred to the Central/Regional PCR Laboratories as elucidated above. This will increase the country’s testing capacity by additional 1,300 tests per day.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said at the briefing by the Presidential task Force on COVID-19 on Friday that government envisaged a steady rise in the number of cases with “more diligent testing, treatment, isolation and (contact) tracing.”
He added that in the use of the GeneXpert machines, the government would prioritise Sokoto and Borno states as soon as the cartridges begin to arrive in a few weeks.
He said, “A Federal Ministry of Health team has been assembled to proceed to Sokoto and Borno on fact-finding and support missions to engage with state authorities and determine material and technical needs.
“A most immediate probability is the prioritisation of these states for the deployment of repurposed GeneXpert machines as soon as we start receiving the cartridges in a few weeks to bring speed to testing.”
Speaking on the index case in Benue State, Ehanire said the government was able to persuade Mrs Susan Idoko-Okpe to allow her test sample to be taken to the laboratory for testing on Thursday and that the result was being awaited, noting that it would be given to her in person.
He said the annual World Health Assembly held every year in Geneva, Switzerland would begin on Monday through teleconference and he would lead the Nigerian delegation to the conference, which he said would focus on the global spread and response to COVID-19.
On the issue of foreign medical doctors, Ehanire noted that the government had not allowed Nigerians to be treated by any foreign national.