IDEAS Radio 17 April 2020

IDEAS issues in Corona virus testing

Chukwudi Ezugwu: Seven minutes past 4 pm and you’re tuned in to 99.3, Nigeria Info.  It is time for IDEAS with Ayo Obe.  On Public Square from 4-6 pm with Aghogho Oboh and Rotimi Sankore, we set the ball rolling with IDEAS with Ayo Obe.  And today on the show, we are going to discuss something really very interesting, and I’m certain that a lot of Nigerians, are asking for answers.  They would like to know everything that has to do with the NCDC and the Corona virus testing strategy.  Remember, that we have heard figures.  President Muhammadu Buhari in his broadcast to the nation, the NCDC, the Presidential Task Force.  And people are asking: Is it possible that we would be on top of the situation?  Who better than Ayo Obe to explain in detail what the situation is, and give insight with respect to all that Nigerians should know.  Remember, we encourage every Nigerian to participate in the process.  We say that it is up to us to build a better Nigeria.  So gone are the days when we would say: I mean, it’s not my business, I don’t care, anything they like, let them do.  This is the time to ask the hard hitting questions and demand answers from our representatives.  Good afternoon Ayo Obe, welcome to IDEAS with Ayo Obe.

Ayo Obe: Good afternoon.

CE: I don’t know if it’s still proper to say: Ẹ ku isolation, or Ẹ ku lockdown?  [Line cuts].  Hello?  Hello?

Ok, so what I will do is try to reach out to Ayo Obe again, so that we can set the ball rolling.  Remember I said that today we’re looking at the Federal Government, the NCDC, and the Coronavirus testing strategy.  Now Nigerians in Lagos, Ogun, and the Federal Capital Territory are currently in the third week of a Federal Government ordered lockdown, and various states across the Federation are also grappling with a range of different varieties of lockdown.  The numbers are jumping.  We are thankful that … our health workers are doing a lot of at the forefront of trying to see how we can contain the virus.  And people are asking a lot of questions.  People are asking questions with respect to the government’s testing strategy, and in particular, the failure of the NCDC to give data on the number of people tested for the virus.  I’m very certain that you would want to know what the situation is.  People have said 1,000, 1,500, 5,000, 4,000, and people are looking at the figures and comparing Nigeria to Ghana and South Africa, and they are saying: If these countries … are testing a lot of people and coming out with numbers, what exactly are we doing?  If we claim that we were prepared for the virus, then why are we in the situation that we are faced with now?  I’m going to reach out to Ayo Obe, and I’m very certain that all of the insight, all the answers that you would need to know will be provided.

I would also like to reiterate that when we talk about our great country Nigeria and talk about participation, we are encouraging every Nigerian to play their part in the process.  Now this is not saying: I have given up on Nigeria, there’s no saying: I have lost hope, I am tired, I don’t want to do again.  There is no “I don’t want to do again”  remember, there is no place like home, and this test is … you know it’s important, it is up to us to do all that we can to see that we make our country a better place for everyone to live in.  Hello Ayo Obe?

AO: Can you hear me?

CE: I can hear you loud and clear, can you hear me?  Hello?  Hello?

AO: … I don’t know if you can hear me …

CE: Yes, I can hear you loud and clear, can you hear me?  Hello?  Oh … something about the network.  What I will do is reach out and we must get the conversation going.  Remember, it is Public Square where we start off first with IDEAS with Ayo Obe.  So I’d like everyone to stay tuned while I try to fix or remedy the situation.  Please do not go anywhere, stay tuned to 99.3 FM, Nigeria Info.

[Trailer]

CE: Welcome back to 99.3 FM Nigeria Info.  I’m hoping that we are very much good to go now.  Hello Ayo Obe?

Ayo Obe:  Hello!

CE: Can you hear me loud and clear?

AO: I can hear you on the radio.

CE:  Oh, ok, so, I think we are just going to try as much as we can to see how we can make this work.  But first off, let’s just go straight to the conversation.  A lot of Nigerians are looking at the situation and they are saying it’s important that we get clarity with what we have to contend with.  Apparently there are figures from the Presidential Task Force, from the NCDC, and also from the President’s broadcast, and people are saying: What exactly do we make of the situation?  But let’s go back to the very beginning.  Why is the data on testing figures a matter of concern to so many Nigerians?

AO: Well Chukwudi, good afternoon, and good afternoon listeners.  I think that the reason why the data on testing is a matter of concern to Nigerians is because we want to see whether we are actually getting on top of this situation.  … If you don’t know how many people are infected, then the danger is that we either think that there’s no problem and we start to relax, or we remain in a state of heightened anxiety, economic lockdown, because lockdown is not just staying at home, it’s also an economic lockdown, and we don’t really see the end of the … of the problem.  I think that Nigerians also want to know: Are we actually being able to flatten the curve … to reduce the number of infections.  Once one person is no longer infecting another person, then you know that eventually the numbers of people infected will drop.  But if we are not testing, then the feeling is that we really don’t know the situation is.  And I think that the problem that Nigerians are having is that: Why isn’t the government releasing their figures?  If they are being a bit cagey … giving  vague figures, vague number about how many have been tested and so on and so forth, then people begin to say: Well, if we can’t …   how can we rely on these figures?  If they’re not testing and they say this … they have this number of cases and this number of discharged, and more particularly, this number of people who have died of the COVID-19 disease, then can we trust those figures?  So I think that it’s an important question, because the … I keep on mentioning that in IDEAS, what we’re looking at is Integrity, one of the things we are looking at is Integrity; the integrity of the tests and the integrity of the figures.  And if people have doubts about the integrity of the tests and the figures then they … then it naturally leads to lack of trust in those in whom, at the moment, we need to have a great deal of trust.

CE: Hmmm.  Talking about trust, can one argue that … there is a reason why the government isn’t releasing the number of tests being done?  Can it be excused?

AO: Well, I personally do not know why the government is not releasing the number of tests, and in fact the NCDC was in … was … at one time it was releasing the figures.  And we also know that some State Governments are releasing the figures.  For example, I’m just looking at the figures from Kaduna  State.  It says it had tested 105 people, it has six confirmed cases, of which one has been discharged while five are current, with no deaths.  So that it’s not that the information cannot be compiled by states or the NCDC.  And I think that it’s important that – before we run away with the idea that: Ahh, if there are 105 tested and six people have the disease it means that the prevalence rate is 5%.  No.  It’s not.  What we need to remember is that there is no random testing going on in the general population now.  What is happening is targeted testing.  You remember that in his broadcast, the President said that we are testing the contacts of contacts, and he said that they had been able to test, or to reach 92% of such contacts.

CE: Yes.

AO: So it’s not that they are going out so if of those tested, so if you get 5% that’s because the testing at the moment is targeted.

And … I think that we also should understand that the government should not act as if not being able to test huge numbers of people is something to conceal from people or to be worried about.  We may not be doing as many tests as other countries and we would like to do more.  But the NCDC has said that what it is doing, is that it is trying to trace the contacts and test.  So it has said that its objective is to ensure that everybody who meets the profile, that is people who have travelled recently, or people who have had contact with those who have travelled recently, people who are presenting certain symptoms and so on and so forth, that its objective is to ensure that everybody who meets the case definition will get tested.  But we need to realise that the materials for testing are not widely available, I mean, we just saw recently in the United Kingdom that they spent $20 million on testing kits, and it turned out that those testing kits – from China – were defective, so they were no use.  We also had a situation in Spain where testing kits were defective again.  So it’s important that we also understand that the capacity to ramp up may not be something that we can …  because we’re all in a global market there’s a worldwide demand for that capacity.  As you said, the fact is that  the …  this disease became widely known to the world at large, certainly by January, and it’s legitimate to ask questions about well, if you knew that it was around in January, why didn’t we start ramping up now?   the NCDC is certainly doing a lot, a fantastic job now  in expanding the testing capacity of the laboratories and so on, and … we’re fortunate that we have these laboratories which can be brought up to the next level … from the United States …[under the PEPFAR] to combat HIV/Aids so a lot of these laboratories are testing for HIV and tuberculosis and so on, so it can be done, but I think we should understand that the NCDC  should … the trust issue is a reciprocal one.  We should be able to see: How many have you tested because I think that it becomes a bit obscure when the …  I mean I appreciate that  when the President’s figures, when he said that we had capacity to test one and a half thousand people per day was misinterpreted or misunderstood, because capacity to test is not the same thing as “We are doing testing”, but the fact is that   the NCDC could help us all to feel a bit more comfortable if it were to say: These are the numbers that we have tested, and so on.

CE: Alright.  Now, talking about capacity, if testing is not widespread, how do we know that many more people don’t have COVID-19 and are silently spreading it?

AO: Well we … the fact is that it’s possible that people are infected and are silently spreading it, that’s actually how the disease had been able to get such a hold in the first place.  But .. we can’t … it’s …  in a way one doesn’t want to … to celebrate the fact that the number of deaths that we are recording is still, compared to many other countries, including countries that got their index cases at the same time as us, that  they are … they are actually experiencing a much higher death rate.  And I appreciate  again, that people’s position is that: Can we trust anything?  In a country where we can’t even count ourselves and say that this is our population, how can we know how many people are being … are dying?  We don’t know how many people are being born.  We have a National Population Commission it doesn’t seem to be able to give us … proper registration of births and deaths, so how do we know?  But I think that we should recognise that the kind of things that we’ve been seeing in some of these other countries, where they are reporting mortuaries being overrun, having to set up … we set up a field hospital or a field isolation unit at Onikan Stadium: in other countries they’ve had to set up field mortuaries to contain the number of dead.  We’ve seen the pictures of mass graves being dug, not just in Iran, in New York and people being buried.  I don’t know Chukwudi, whether you have been able to see a video that was circulating from Ecuador, where again, the people were lining up at the cemetery and the gravediggers were not able to keep pace with the demand!  Now at the moment, as they say: We may not be testing but we’re not burying either.  So if we don’t have that kind of anecdotal report from the mortuaries or from the … from the cemeteries, that … these numbers are being buried.  And I appreciate again, yes  that in some areas, people they don’t go to the hospitals, they die and they bury and … they hardly involve the authorities.  But I think that is going to be a bit harder in a place like Lagos where it is less common for people to be interring corpses in their compound.  So I think that we … there’s  no room for complacency it can’t be stressed enough.

CE: Very true.

AO: But that doesn’t mean to say that there’s a secret epidemic going on and we don’t know about it.

CE: Hmmm.  Thank you so much Ayo Obe.  There is no room for complacency.  Thank you so much for sharing insights, and I’m very certain … that a lot of Nigerians are better informed now, and hopefully we will not get to the state of  some European countries and even the state of New York is currently grappling with.  Thank you so much.

AO: I appreciate it  I want to say that eventually we will get to the mass testing because NCDC says that will be done between May and September, but for now, we need to be able to trace and isolate or treat the people who have had this direct or indirect contact with the disease.  Once that is done, we may be able to expand, but I … as I said, I don’t see why that … the information about how many tests are being done should not be released to the Nigerian people.  We are quite capable of understanding it and seeing also what is going on around us.

So  thank you very much Chukwudi and thank you very much listeners.

CE: Thank you very much, have a great weekend ahead.