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Dear NCDC is the COVID-19 test only for the rich in Nigeria? By Sunny Ibeh Jnr

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Sunny Ibeh Jnr
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The coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19 is currently ravaging all nooks and crannies of world. It started from China; a country which prides itself as the most populous nation in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the pandemic has touched over 185 countries in the world. Over 500,000 infected patients have been recorded so far across the affected countries – with over 26,000 deaths recorded already.

On the 27th February 2020, Nigeria recorded its index case of the deadly pandemic in Logos. The Nigerian index case was a 44-year-old Italian citizen who came into the country. Days later, precisely On 9 March 2020, a second case of the virus was reported in Ewekoro, Ogun State. This time it was a Nigerian citizen who had contact with the index case.

The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has since swung into action inviting citizens with symptoms of the virus to come forward for testing. However, this call has been predominantly on the media space. There has been no equating physical willingness, and action to match the media vociferousness of the apex disease control body in the country. This becomes the ‘’big problem.’’

Earlier today I spoke with a doctor friend who works with a top hospital in Abuja. My good from bemoaned the unwilling attitude of the NCDC personnel when it comes to testing of individuals with symptoms of the coronavirus pandemic. He confirmed to me that many patients who had developed mild symptoms for the virus had been unable to undergo test. In fact, they had contacted the NCDC, not one, not twice, to come and carry out test on these patients with mild symptoms but unfortunately the body declined coming.

According to him, the NCDC personnel told them that the patients had no COVID-19! This conclusion was made via a phone conversation. The question now is, how did the NCDC personnel know that these patients with mild symptoms are not having the virus through a phone conversation? To cut the long story short, my friend told me that the NCDC didn’t show up. I mean in all the cases their attention was drawn to.

Let’s be frank here, the major problem Nigeria would face in battling the COVID-19 pandemic is the “testing problem.” It is getting clearer by the day that attention is only given to the rich, their relatives and friends. It is sad that it is gradually looking like a thing that has to do with the Nigerian “connection factor” for one to be tested for the pandemic. The only people who have seamlessly had test sessions are those from elitist class and our politicians.

I had also read in the media how a returnee traveller from an affected country who wanted to be sure of his status before going into isolation, was treated with lackluster attitude here in Abuja. The guy in question didn’t only call the NCDC, he went to three different NCDC centres here in Abuja , including the the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital Isolation Centre, but they all refused to carry out test on him. He was asked to go home, that they only attend to individuals with “serious” symptoms. Fellow Nigerians, this is not just sad, it is disheartening.

On Thursday, a patient who had already tested positive for the virus was allegedly chased out from the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital by the management. As at the time the news broke out, the patient went home — invariably, he must have had contacts with people around him. Aren’t we the cause of our own problems?

How can this manner of “rejection” and gross lackluster attitude be seen at a time like this when we’re dealing with a disease that is patently shaking even the world powers? How can we treat with kid gloves a disease that is bringing countries like Italy, USA, Spain, and UK to their kneels? That’s after leaving China with an unforgettable scar!

I received with elation that the testing ratio of NCDC has risen by over 32% since they took delivery of the Jack Ma medical equipment donation. However, there should be a change of attitude among the working with the NCDC. It is absurd, nauseating and unbelievable that the NCDC personnel would say that individuals must have “serious” symptoms before they could be tested. Have these personnel of the NCDC considered the harm this lackadaisical and unprofessional attitude could cause if it eventually degenerates to community spreading? Well; I fear for my dear country!

In saner climes, citizens are begged and encouraged to come out for testing at the instance of visible symptoms or close contact with infected persons. But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case.

With the Jack Ma donation, donations from well-meaning Nigerians and the N15bn release by President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday to fight this deadly pandemic, I believe we can get a good number of equipment for test and treatment –and even get more personnel on board to achieve operational efficiency and speed. The penalty of a care-free testing attitude would obviously be too harsh for us to bear considering the standard of our health care system, the crowding way of life and other life-style factors that place us on a susceptible end.

In encapsulation, testing should be carried out on all returnees from affected countries, persons with degrees of COVID-19 symptoms and people who have had contacts with infected persons – irrespective of their social or economic status. Waiting for this set of persons to develop mild symptoms before they would be attended to be a mistake we wouldn’t love it consequences.

Finally, the attitude of selective testing should be jettisoned as the first step of our readiness for battling this deadly scourge. Test not just the rich, but also the “nobodies” for it is for our own collective good. When the nobodies are affected without test and treatment, it endangers the whole the nation. A stitch in time saves nine.

Sunny Ibeh Jnr is a Nigerian journalist and a PR Strategist.

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