The Federal Government has said no fewer than 113 health workers are currently infected with coronavirus.
The government, which stressed the need for those on the front lines against COVID-19 to adhere to its advisories relating to the management of the pandemic, also asked Nigerians to remain where they were at present and refrain from travelling to their states or villages.
It said this was necessary to halt the transmission of the pandemic. The Federal Government, which said it has received an interim report from the team of medical experts it sent to Kano in the wake of mass deaths in the state, added that it had sent in three ventilators, personal protective equipment, PPE, and experts drawn from Abuja, Lagos and Irrua to assist the state in halting the deaths in Kano.
While noting that two molecular laboratories had begun functioning in Kano State, the government said it had also begun establishment of a third laboratory there.
These were some of the updates given by the Presidential Task Force PTF on COVID-19 on the fight against the pandemic during its daily briefing in Abuja yesterday.
In his presentation, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, asked health workers to adhere to advisories of the ministry to guard against infection, adding that more experts would be sent to Kano to assist the state halt the spread of the virus.
He said primary healthcare in the country would not be abandoned, in spite of the current efforts to stamp out COVID-19.
The minister said: “It is very important for healthcare workers to understand that nobody is conscripted, everybody is a volunteer. Those who cannot handle it generally have the option of requesting to be excused and someone else would come in.
“As for the doctors, it is not true to say over 300 of them are infected. There are not so many people in the health sector who are infected. The latest figures we have is that they are about 113 actually and these are not all public health workers.
‘’A good number of them are from private hospitals and if you hear us speaking here frequently against trying to treat coronavirus in private clinics, we are actually referring to people who do so without having necessary precautions or training because they risk infecting themselves and they go home and give this infection to their family.
‘’That is not the right thing. So, the healthcare workers who have no training, have no business actually handling coronavirus.
‘’As for those who do not have equipment, we have said we provided equipment and PPE for all those who are out there. There are one or two places where we have heard that there is a tightness with supply and we are trying to send them over.
“I once again call on health workers to stringently follow laid down standard infection, prevention and control measures at all times and not to take risks. We cannot afford to lose the services of essential manpower at this time.
‘’Every client should be treated with a high index of suspicion for COVID-19, but treat every client with fairness so that persons suffering from other ailments do not suffer neglect or treatment refusal.
‘’It is not ethical to turn clients away without, at least a medical advice, neither should a person in distress be refused care in emergency situation. The advisory on case management is accessible online.
“I shall, as usual, ask citizens to adhere to advisories: stay home and do not travel anywhere, because there is no call for everyone to return to their villages. Wear a mask or face covering if you must go out of your house and make sure you wash it every evening.
‘’Wash your hands regularly and practice respiratory hygiene. Remember social distancing, avoid crowds and inform those around you of these advisories.’’
On Kano, Dr Ehanire said: “As community transmission emerges, the Federal Ministry of Health has brought in manpower capacity from National Primary Health Care Development Agency to strengthen and integrate risk communication with the planned training of primary healthcare workers and also community mobilizers to identify new cases and drive demand for COVID-19 testing, while continuing to maintain normal outpatient service.
‘’This ensures that health services provision does not suffer at the primary health care level, but also that health workforce remains safe. NPHCDA will anchor community engagement and mobilisation for COVID-19.
“The Ministerial Task Team sent on a fact-finding mission to Kano has sent an interim report, which provided information on the needs, strengths and weaknesses of the Kano response system.
‘’While I await a full report, this will guide the Federal Ministry of Health in supporting Kano State COVID-19 Task Force with necessary material, training and human resources.
They will include assembling and dispatching a technical team from FMoH and viral Infectious disease specialists from Irrua Specialist hospital to join a technical team from Lagos Ministry of Health that is already on ground in Kano at the request of the governor of Kano State.
‘’There will, therefore, be a good pool of very experienced hands-on experts to support the leading role of Kano State in the response.
“An emergency medical team from FHoH has left Abuja with ambulances, five of which were kindly donated by Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, on their way to Kano to provide emergency response, in view of movement restrictions arising from the lockdown.’’
Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu, said the laboratories at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, AKTH, and that of the Bayero University Kano BUK were already in operation, while a third one was underway.
Iheakwazu also advised Nigerians not to stigmatize communities which have a high prevalence of COVID-19 as well as the staff of the NCDC who were on field operations, saying such behaviour could serve as a disincentive.
He said: “In terms of states asking for more laboratories and the ability to manage them, I think this is a good thing.
‘’We have said severally that our strategy here is really to have a molecular laboratory in every state and manage it through a hub and spoke approach through the National Reference Laboratory that is at the NCDC, connecting to all the laboratories, make sure that we organise a supply chain and IT support and others.
“We want to get a connected and collaborative public health network in Nigeria that is no longer, as in the past, focusing on TB or HIV or COVID-19. We want each laboratory to be able to diagnose any of the infectious diseases that are important for us.’’
Also speaking, Chairman of the Task Force and Secretary to Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, said his team has continued to engage the Kano State government in the collaborative effort to fight the spread of the virus.
“The high-level technical team sent to Kano on Monday has already submitted its interim report,” he stated. While assuring of greater support for the state, the SGF said:
“The already established isolation and treatment centres with holding capacity for 274 persons, the proposed establishment of additional facilities with capacity for 500, two sample collection centres, along with six new proposed centres, have provided a strong foundation for tackling the spread of the virus in the state.
“Similarly, the Nigerian military, under its COVID-19 response plan, will establish an additional isolation centre, treatment facility and a testing laboratory service in Kano State.
‘’The PTF COVID-19, in the immediate, would further strengthen Kano State to scale-up its response with the provision of necessary facilities and equipment, capacity building, improving stakeholder inter-phase and guidance on any existing policy capable of diminishing the fight against the pandemic in the state.
Already, the testing laboratories in AKTH and the BUK have become fully functional.
“The PTF has released a number of equipment to be transported immediately to Kano to beef up the response.
These include two oxygen concentration and three ventilators; 280 protective gowns; 51 face shields; 538 examination gloves; 25 boot covers; medical masks and surgical caps as well as IR Thermometers.
“I am confident that the above collaboration, complemented by the lockdown directed by the President, will be effective in slowing down the spread, while we continue to test, detect, isolate, contact trace and manage cases.
‘’Also, the on-going investigation into the causes of the recently reported high number of deaths will be pursued to a logical conclusion.’’