On Wednesday, February 24th 2021, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC as usual, released the figure for COVID-19 cases in the country.
The figures, especially the number of positive cases for Wednesday, put at 655, followed a trend that has been consistent for days; lower figures.
The NCDC has continued to declare lower figures for the country, which goes to show that the rate of infections has drastically reduced in the country and that the nation may be winning the war against the deadly virus.
As cheering as this maybe, especially after the nation got to its peak of 1,600 and while other nations are churning out daily figures in multiple thousands, experts are beginning to question the authenticity of the figures, claiming that all the indices on ground, in terms of policy and actions by government and the society point to the contrary.
Several experts who spoke to DAILY POST are of the opinion that the nation has done nothing to deserve the lower numbers it is getting, neither are there policy initiatives to back it up.
The report of a recent survey conducted in the country paints a totally different picture.
According to the report of a COVID-19 antibodies survey in Nigeria, about four million residents of Lagos State alone have had the virus, a number that’s even greater than the figure for the entire African continent.
The seroprevalence survey carried out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Institute for Medical Research (IMR) suggests that the figures the country have been churning out may after all not be accurate.
It also shows that for every five persons tested in Lagos, Enugu and Nasarawa states, one was positive, while for Gombe State, the report puts it at one in every 10 persons tested.
The Director General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the survey shows that about 186 million Nigerians are at the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
“Eighty to ninety per cent of the population in these four states are still susceptible to the virus which makes the vaccination efforts we are about to start in Nigeria even more important,” Ihekweazu said.
The numbers released daily by the NCDC, which spearheaded the survey and issued the report have continued to be low despite saying one in every five persons in Lagos and three other states come out positive.
NCDC’s official data puts the number of tests conducted so far since the outbreak of the pandemic in Nigeria at 1,489,103, while confirmed cases stands at 153,842 as at 24th of February, 2021.
Active cases as at the same date stands at 21,116 after 130,818 have been discharged and deaths resulting from the viral infection put at 1,885.
A closer look at the official NCDC figures shows that confirmed cases stands at more than 10 percent of the number of tests carried out so far. This goes to show that the numbers the nation has presently is a function of the number of test carried out.
A medical doctor, who prefers to be identified by only his first name, Charles, paints a vivid picture of what the issues are during a visit to one of the sample collection centres established by the Lagos State Government.
When DAILY POST visited the centre located at the annex building of a local government secretariat on the Mainland, Dr. Charles cuts the picture of a man under immense pressure. As the lead man at the centre, with a couple of other health workers, he daily contends with scores of Nigerians coming for test, who had to be turned back.
According to him, the procedure for being tested does not allow for mass testing that government had pushed in the media overtime. ”Those are mere propaganda,” he submitted.
“Before your samples can be taken at this centre or any other one for that matter, you must have been in touch with the NCDC and after they are satisfied that you are qualified for the test, you will now be directed to the test centres. But here, on a daily basis, I contend with people just walking in to take a test without referral from the NCDC. I am sure you have witnessed some of the near temper raising situations today; that’s what I had to contend with on a daily basis”, he said.
Asked what can be responsible for the low numbers recently, Dr Charles said you can only get figures dictated by the number of tests you have carried out.
“It is a simple thing, the number of tests carried out will dictate the number of positive cases you get. The numbers are not being manufactured or manipulated, it is a function of tests carried out. The nations that are recording huge numbers of positive cases have greater capacity for testing. I actually marvel whenever I hear people argue that NCDC just allocate numbers every day and that COVID-19 is not as serious in Nigeria as it is being painted. If Nigeria has the capacity to test 100,000 people daily, then maybe the true picture of the prevalence of the virus in Nigeria will be known”, Charles said.
A public health expert at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Lagos believes the numbers being released daily by the NCDC is not a true reflection of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. According to him, the numbers cannot be correct.
“How can the numbers be correct? Of course, they are not because we have people who are daily being infected but have not come up for testing. We also have those who have made attempts at being tested but could not because of our grossly inadequate testing capacity and the unnecessary bureaucracy that has been built around it. Government test centres are not walk-in centres that anyone can just go to be tested, which is contrary to what Nigerians are being told.
“Again, how many ordinary Nigerians can afford the charges at the private licensed laboratories? That’s the issue. Until we are able to ramp up our testing capacity and make it not just available but easily accessible to every Nigerian, we may not know the true situation. As a person, I will even suggest a policy of compulsory testing for every Nigerian,” he said.
On the possibility of winning the war against the virus, the public health expert said the nation is far from winning.
“We are not winning, instead we are submitting to the virus. Nations that are far more serious than us and that have policies in place to combat the pandemic have not made serious headway. So, how do we hope to win when practically, nothing is being done. Nigerians keep flouting the safety protocols at will. Just go to under the bridge at Ikeja and observe the level of compliance to the use of face masks. Check the buses or go inside Computer Village to see if there is physical distancing of any nature. Nigerians are not serious about precautions and the government seems tired of enforcement. So we are where we are, where everybody is free to contract the virus and is at liberty to infect others, in crowded markets, beer parlours, churches and mosques, inside crowded public transportation and of course, at home.”
In Ilorin, Kwara State, a woman visited her sick brother. She returned to her destination, got sick and in less than three days, she died. Her brother she visited died less than 24 hours after her death, while a third sibling, also died after she visited her sister in the hospital.
The above abridged story is known to many Nigerians, but there is no official confirmation of the cause of death of the siblings, but experts told DAILY POST that it is safe to classify them under Nigeria’s growing list of unexplained deaths during a global pandemic.
”It is common to hear reports of deaths that one is unable to fully explain. Though for every death these days, there is always suspicion that it could be COVID-19 but because Nigeria, first does not have a policy of compulsory conduct of autopsy to ascertain the cause of death and because there is no compulsory policy of death registration, as is obtainable in other countries, including some on the African continent, they remain mere suspicions and questionable,” a medical doctor had told DAILY POST in Abuja.
“People are dying just as they have always died, but the difference here is the sometimes ‘unexplained circumstances’ (to the lay man) under which they occur. Many of us are convinced that many more people have died lately, and it is COVID-19 related. But we do not have the statistics because Nigerians are getting reluctant even in visiting hospitals. They are afraid they may be told what is wrong with them is COVID-19. For many, COVID-19 is some kind of stigmatised sickness people must know they have. That’s the more reason people are dying because they refused to seek for help at the right time,” Dr. Melford, a Medical Director at an Ojodu Berger, Lagos based hospital said.
Speaking on the way forward, Dr. Melford reasoned that the government must intensify its public enlightenment engagements and also involve opinion leaders at the grassroots so as to make it much more effective.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC has confirmed 655 fresh cases of COVID-19 in 20 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The total number of confirmed cases across the country now stands at 153,842.