We are collaborating with global partners on testing challenges – NCDC

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The management of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), says it will collaborate with global partners to tackle bottlenecks to its target on testing for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the country.

The Director General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu made the disclosure in an interview, on Tuesday in Abuja.

Ihekwazu said that the centre was working very hard to equip its network of laboratories to be able to achieve the target in the country.

The DG said that the centre so far had 26 testing laboratories in its network for COVID-19.

The NCDC Laboratory Strategic Group has set itself a target of testing two million people across the country in the next three months.

The two million Nigerians will come to about 50,000 per state which the health agency noted was a very ambitious target.

The NCDC said that this would cost a lot of money and also required a lot of collaboration.

“We did put an ambitious target of hitting two million tests in three months, this is the  beginning of week three if I’m not mistaken. So, we are not in the second month yet.

“Sometimes, to drive improvement, you have to set out that target for yourself, and that is really what we’ve done.

“There are many bottlenecks to this and that’s something throughout this week we are working with our global partners in terms of how to unbottle some of those supply chain challenges.

“And some of those things are now going to yield fruit this week. I actually don’t want to name a date untill I have those reagents in the country.

”So, I’m hesitant to say this is when it will happen or that is when it will happen.

“There is now a lot of momentum around the supply, we hope those reagents will really lead us to that,” Ihekweazu explained.

The DG said that the other thing was how the NCDC would stimulate collection of samples from Nigerians.

“Like I said, we will publish the number of tests per state. That we promise to do today, but we might end up doing it tomorrow.

“But, this will be published so that you can see actually from those numbers that there are many states that don’t have a laboratory, that have tested an incredible number of people compared to the total figure.

“So, we will discuss those numbers once we make them available either later today or tomorrow,” he stated.

Speaking on activation of laboratories in the country, he said that when building an institution, there were many things that were never visible to people.

“So, when we come to NCDC  four years ago, we realised that there were several pieces of laboratory equipment lying across the country that were not functioning.

“Why were they not functioning, maybe for one small component or problem. And you’ll be wasting equipment worth millions of naira or millions of dollars.

“So, we started looking for how to train our biomedical engineers. We found partner in Japanese International Corporation Agency (JICA), and they started supporting us specifically in this regard.

“We now retained two bio medical engineers over six months in Japan. Japan is well known world-wide for their capacity around things like this.

“These two colleagues are leading a lot of the efforts on the equipment side of activating labs. Then we have our biomedical Laboratory scientists that are leading the training on Laboratory diagnostic science,” he explained.

Ihekweazu said that the agency would send a three-man team comprising a biomedical engineer, a molecular Laboratory scientist and one new colleague “expert” to be trained in the process .

“Two teams left today, one in Katsina and the other to Ilorin to do this. And as we continue to do this, we build the capacity of more Nigerians to do this,” he said.

Ihekweazu said that the maintenance of medical equipment was one of the biggest challenges the health agency had.

“We have persons on the Laboratory side, but anybody working in the health space will tell you the challenges that we have with very expensive pieces of medical equipment that often breaks down for one small problem and that’s the challenge we are trying to solve.

“There is no magic bullet, you keep pushing, you strain,” he added.

He disclosed that they had a workshop at NCDC where they trained local staff to do a lot of the maintenance.

“What we call biosafety cabinet that are necessary, they have to be accredited every single year, they have to be checked whether they provide the safe environment to enable people work safely.

“So, to do that, the pipe certifying them has to themselves be certified that they can certify the cabinet,” he noted.

According to him, it’s a very diligent process in keeping our equipment working, because we know that the equipment is what ultimately leads us to have confidence in the result that we produce.

“Yes, we have people doing this and we try to keep them within the public sector which is not always easy. But I think people are beginning to realise that there is benefit in working in the public sector and they can grow their career that way,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the DG who spoke on self isolation, noted that very early in the outbreak, the agency had a policy on self isolation for people that traveled back to the country from one of the most affected countries.

He said that but, since then, the policy had been institutional isolation, both for people being brought back through the evacuation processes at the moment.

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