Director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, says by the end of the week, the agency would have capacity to carry out 1, 000 COVID-19 tests on a daily basis.
Ihekweazu, who was responding to questions at a press briefing on Tuesday, said laboratories were like power plants and could not be built overnight but the agency is putting in efforts to improve and increase capacity.
“As at last week we are testing about 500 per day, or we had the capacity to test 500 per day. By the end of this week, we will be at a thousand per day, and next week we plan to take it to a 1, 500 per day, just by increasing the number of labs,” he said.
“We are managing and improving the supply sides, but at the same time, we need to reduce the demand side to those that really need it. So, in Lagos there is a big problem of a lot of anxiety and everybody wants to get tested. We need you to help us give this message to people. We have a case definition for COVID-19; either you have respiratory symptoms plus travel plus contact with a confirmed case or respiratory symptoms of unknown explanation. If you have cancer or something like that, we rule that out.
“These are the three groups, you must have symptoms and this is an important message because the more people force themselves into being tested the less we have the capacity to test those that really need it. These people that really need it will be transmitting it into the community and more people will get infected.
“So, there is a consequence, not just for you as an individual but for the rest of society. So, we need to get to those we need to get to. And by testing those that don’t need it, the worried well, we block the system from those that need it, and the outbreak continues. So, there is a price to pay for testing all these asymptomatic individuals.
“The quickest set of laboratories to convert for COVID-19 testing have been the laboratories we’ve been establishing over the last few years for lassa. That is where our molecular diagnostic capacity lies. Yes, we haven’t done enough over the last few years and now there is a need to do a lot more very quickly. Collectively, this is not just a federal government responsibility, this is a responsibility of all the states governments, and unfortunately just like power plants, we cannot build molecular labs overnight, so we are going to work extra hard.”
He said the private sector is coming in and the state governments are injecting funds in the health sector in order to increase the number of laboratories that would be up in the next few months.
He added, however, that the quick solution is not a new laboratory but increased capacity in existing labs.
According to the ministry of health, there are currently six functional laboratories with the capacity to test for COVID-19.