People with acute respiratory symptoms in some Lagos and Abuja communities are to be contacted directly by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The agency described the move as part of its efforts to contain community spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It said officials would be deployed in the two city centres to begin door-to-door collection of samples.
According to NCDC Director-General Chikwe Ihekweazu, the step will eliminate the bottlenecks in testing capacity for (COVID-19), as samples will now be collected from the right persons and getting it into the labs for testing.
Dr. Ihekweazu, who spoke at the daily briefing Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja yesterday, said the NCDC now has the capacity to carry out 3,000 COVID-19 tests daily.
He attributed the feat to the activation of more testing laboratories to increase them to 13.
The NCDC boss said: “We are really trying to change our strategy now and test more people. We are setting up 20 healthcare facilities in Lagos and supporting the state in doing this. This is done by the government of Lagos State to collect samples from people that have acute respiratory infection and fever.
“Also, we are intensifying our surveillance in health care centres around the FCT to collect samples from people with acute respiratory infections.
“In certain communities in Abuja, we are going door-to-door to collect samples from people with acute respiratory infection. We are doing the same in Lagos.
“So, in these two states where there are high incidents of infection, we are now strengthening our surveillance and going to the patients to collect these samples.
“The call centres have improved dramatically. So, we are also urging members of the public that think they have acute respiratory infection to call us, we will send the team to them. Please don’t go yourself, and if you are going, go to one of these 20 health facilities.
“Don’t go to any other centre. We will announce them as they are setup; Lagos State will announce them and then, make them accessible to everyone.”
Concerning the usage of face masks, he added: “There is a chronic global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks. 50 per cent of all the masks in the world are produced in China. The good thing is that they are now restarting their production, and thankfully, some of those things are coming out.
“We are really looking for local manufacturers of PPE to procure from them. Every hand sanitiser procured by the Federal Government now is supplied by a local manufacturer.
“The demand for masks is very high, and even with a lot of resources, a country like Nigeria is not able to meet the demands of everyone.”
He foreclosed the possibility of supplying masks to everybody in Nigeria right now, describing mask wearing as an optional additional layer to measures like social distancing, physical distancing and hand and hygiene measures.
Dr. Ihekweazu said: “The usage of masks is particularly important if you have to attend a large mass gathering – markets, malls, etc.
“We are asking that all public sector resources should be reserved for procuring masks for people working in the health sector. We are advising states that – if you have extra funds to procure PPEs, use it first to satisfy the needs in your hospitals and clinics before you start procuring masks for everyone.
“The wearing of masks will not protect against COVID-19 unless it is combined with other measures. We particularly recommend it for senior citizens over 60 years at least, especially those that have hypertension and diabetes.”
On the increased capacity, Dr. Ihekweazu said the bottleneck has shifted from testing to the collection of samples from the right people and getting it into the lab.
He said: “After today, we are going to publish a testing and diagnostic strategy for the country, so that everybody is aware of where we are and where we are going – short and long term.
“That is, how we are going to introduce the TB facilities (GeneXpert Machines), HIV testing, and how we are going to end up with one lab per state.”
In his presentation, Health Minister Dr. Osagie Ehanire, explained that the ministry has expanded the testing criteria to include cases with fever and respiratory tract symptoms.
Ehanire said: “To ensure maximum utilisation of our increased testing capacity, the case definition and testing criteria have been expanded to include not only contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases with fever and respiratory tract symptoms, but also all persons with fever and respiratory tract symptoms of unknown cause.
“The advent of community transmission marks the evolution of our initial strictly containment strategy. Risk communication to the public and coordination with the state level COVID-19 response preparedness groups, are going to be scaled up.
“There is also an increased drive to detect cases more rapidly, especially in hotspot communities. All persons fitting the case definition are advised to first wear a mask of any type, isolate themselves from friends and family as they call the national emergency number 112, or the NCDC toll free number 0800 9700 0010, or report to the nearest health facility for referral.”