[From BONIFACE OKORO, Umuahia]
Abia State has recorded 23, 700 suspected cases of COVID-19 which have claimed 30 lives since the outbreak of the pandemic in the state last year.
This was disclosed by the state’s health officials who revealed that samples were collected from 23, 690 patients, with 2, 029 cases confirmed; while 1, 990 cases were treated and discharged; during a one-day sensitization of media personnel on the roll out of COVID-19 Antigen-Rapid Diagnostic Testing (Ag-RDT) in the state. Already, the state has received 20, 000 Ag-RDT test kits to prosecute the exercise.
The programme was organized by the Abia State Public Health Emergency Operations Centre (ABPHEOC) of Ministry of Health, with support from World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the officials, the Ag-RDT, an instant result-yielding COVID-19 test, is an alternative to the existing laboratory-based PCR COVID-19 testing which result are delayed for about two weeks or even a month to be released. They also said that Ag-RDT testing is simple and could be accessed in all the 17 local government areas of the state, both in public and private hospitals.
“Since the first COVID-19 case was recorded in Abia last year, the state has recorded a total of 23, 700 suspected cases. Out of these, we have collected samples from 23, 690 patients; and of these patients whose samples were collected, we have confirmed 2,029 cases as at last week and 1, 990 patients have been treated and discharged
“We have recorded 30 deaths and of these numbers, five of them are health workers,” said the WHO Response Coordinator, COVID-19, Mrs. Ogech Chigbo, who spoke on “Basic Facts on COVID-19 Disease” and “COVID-19 Outbreaks/Vaccination Situation Updates.” She added that another 33 health workers were infected.
She said the generated data was from reported cases only, suggesting that COVID-19 cases in the state could be higher as surveillance reports indicated that one case could translate to 10 cases through contact tracing. “These are just those that reported. In surveillance, one case translates to 10, which means that there were more cases that were not reported and were mingling with people in the communities and spreading the disease,” she added.
According to Mrs. Chigbo, who represented the WHO Coordinator in Abia, COVID-19 cases have been recorded in all the 17 local governments, with Umuahia North harbouring the state capital, being the most endemic with the highest number of infections. It is followed by Umuahia South, Obingwa, Aba North, etc., in descending order.
Explaining why AG-RDT was rolled out, she said that from the Health Ministry’s Monthly Data Analysis, the highest monthly infection rate of 129 cases was recorded. “There are cases where four persons tested positive in one family, while in another, the whole family of seven all tested positive.
“That is why the Ag-RDT was devised so that we can have more people tested and remove those affected from the communities and treat them. In all the 17 LGAs, we have designated centres where these tests could be conducted and results released immediately and case management commences instantly,” she said.
On vaccination, the WHO official disclosed that 121,000 persons have so far been vaccinated in Abia, adding that no death has been recorded from the exercise. She expressed unhappiness that people were behaving as if the COVID-19 pandemic was no longer existing, stressing that this was the reason for the spike in infection rate.
“People are behaving as if COVID-19 no longer exists, but it is very much with us. Last week , we recorded nine new confirmed COVID-19 cases,” she noted, emphasizing on the need for people to continue observing all COVID-19 protocols in order to protect themselves from contracting the disease. She advised that the nose remains “a direct channel for contacting the virus” because the nose is always watery, warning people to always cover their noses with the facemask to save them from contracting the virus.
“We are still battling with the disease. And for that purpose, the NCDC, in collaboration with WHO, is struggling to ensure that this disease is being reduced to the barest minimum. And that is why they have to devise another means of testing people, different from what has been in use, even though that one (PCR test) is still in vogue.
“With the coming of the Antigen-RDT testing which we are rolling out in the state, people will have the opportunity of being tested and receive the result immediately, so that if they are positive, despite the fact they are not showing any sign of the symptoms, we can start managing them.
“The essence of bringing the media here today, is for you to help us, send the information concerning the disease outbreak, also send out information concerning the Ag-RDT testing, in such a manner that people will know that it is existing in all the 17 local governments of the state and then the health facilities where these services are available so that they can oblige themselves of the opportunity of being tested; if not for anything, let them know their COVID-19 status,” Mrs Chigbo said.
Still on efforts to contain COVID-19 spread in Abia, the State Disease Surveillance and Notification Officer, Stanley Enyinnaya Ajamgbulobi, said the essence of surveillance was to identify people who had had contact with infected persons which helps to break the chain of transmission and, possibly, curtail the spread of COVID-19, using contact tracing.
In his presentation on “Introduction to Ag-RDT kits and Data Collection,” Consultant Epidemiologist and Deputy State Epidemiologist, Abia State Ministry of Health, Charles Ibeneme, explained that PCR test still remained the gold standard but time consuming; while Ag-RDT gives accurate instant test result. RDT has been used in testing for malaria, HIV and other diseases which informed experts to develop it for testing for COVID-19, he revealed.
“RDT has recorded over 90 per cent accuracy, it is easy to use and testing is totally free. Currently, it has been rolled out and is in use in Abia and we have trained health workers in public and private facilities in the local government areas,” Ibeneme disclosed, adding that Abia has received 20, 000 Ag-RDT test kits which have been distributed to the 17 local governments.
He advised residents of Abia to log into the NCDC website to register online for the testing in any place of their choice via the link: https://ecif.ncdc.gov.ng.
He said after filling the e-registration form, a code would be generated for the person who filled the form and which he/she should present at the facility of his/her choice for the testing and the person would be swiftly attended to because of the pre-filled form.
“The point we are making is this: currently in Abia State, we have rolled out RDT testing. We have been doing training overtime. We have trained healthcare workers in all the 17 local government areas of Abia State. We now have kits and the test is free and we have sample sites in all the headquarters of the local government areas. We are encouraging people to go these sample sites and other hospitals for testing,” Ibeneme said.
Welcoming participants, the State Epidemiologist, Abia State Ministry of Health, Mrs Peace Nwogwugwu, said the Ministry was worried that current media reports tend to focus more on the ongoing vaccination exercises to the extent that people no longer pay much attention to testing for COVID-19 to know their status, when the pandemic was still ravaging the populace.
Nwogwugwu said that workshop objective was to get media personnel to continue to disseminate information of the existence of the disease and to equally inform the public that a better way of testing for COVID-19 has been evolved.
“There is a new, better way of COVID-19 testing to get results instantly through the introduction of Antigen-Rapid Diagnostic Testing. This helps in quick management of cases which is aimed at reducing the spread of the disease,” she said.