One of the biggest challenges in Nigeria's war against the COVID-19 pandemic is the country's limited diagnostic infrastructure, according to the director general of Nigeria's Disease Control Center, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.
The head of the NCDC attributed the challenge to decades of neglect.
Dr. Ihekweazu stated this during his appearance on the platform on Saturday.
He was responding to a question from Pastor Poju Oyemade, the platform's convener, about what he considered the most difficult challenge in managing the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
"In the 60 years of our independence, we have not paid enough attention to building a diagnostic architecture across the country and COVID-19 is the most obvious example of this. But there are many other examples that we face every day," said Dr Ihekweazu.
"You know, when you see people diagnosed with malaria and typhoid as an entity and all kinds of dubious diagnoses being shared across the country, the underlying challenge is exactly the same as what you're seeing now with COVID-19."
For the head of the NCDC, the failure to provide diagnostic infrastructure is not due to a sector or the government, it is a collective failure.
“When I say“ we ”, I’m not just talking about the federal government; I'm talking about all of us – the private sector, the public sector. We failed to build the diagnostic infrastructure, ”he said.
The emergence of COVID-19 in the country and its spread may have exposed the failures of the past, but it is also helping to change the situation with the government and stakeholders running out of time to implement measures against it.
"Now we are fighting and yes, we are building quickly, we are scaling our labs every day … We are rapidly increasing our tests," said Dr. Ihekweazu, adding: "Really, Nigeria's size and scale are our biggest strength, but also a great challenge ”.
Lessons to be learned
According to the NCDC DG, other challenges affecting the fight against the violent pandemic that has infected more than three million people worldwide, killing nearly 300,000 include the way the Nigerian health system is structured; "The separation between the states and the federal (government) – who do what."
He said: “I think there are many lessons to be learned after that (pandemic) around the fragmentation of our health system and how it presents a challenge when you get an outbreak and really need a commander in a controlled, leadership environment clear between governments to drive the response.
“There is (also) a challenge around only logistical and supply chain problems; how we put things, first, in the country and, second, how we put them in the country in time, for the patients and our hospitals that need them ”.
Since February 27, when the first case of COVID-19 in the country was dealt with by the NCDC, the pandemic has spread to 34 states and the territory of the Federal Capital of Abuja, infecting a total of 2,170 people and killing 68 people.
Despite the spread and challenges identified by Dr. Ihekweazu, he is optimistic about Nigeria's progress and the level of leadership displayed in tackling the pandemic.
He said: “What I have experienced in the last few months since I started working on it is really incredible.
“I saw leadership on the side of the federal government, in the PTF, among the governors. I participated in NGF meetings, spoken with many of our governors – the governor of the state of Lagos, the governor of the state of Kano; it's incredible, the amount of leadership that comes out of a crisis. "
The NCDC DG praised health professionals who, he said, are literally working 24 hours "at great risk to themselves and their families" to save lives.
He asked them not to give up and persevere during the difficult time, as Nigerians are counting on them.
In addition, he ensured that joint efforts are being made to ensure that all healthcare professionals are protected and properly equipped.
“From the Nigeria Disease Control Center and all of our partners and the Federal Government, the Presidential Task Force; we are working hard to ensure that everyone has the personal protective equipment they need, ”he said.
Although Dr. Ihekweazu believes it is too early to determine what the final outcome will be for the country and whether the current COVID-19 case mortality rate, which he says is relatively low, will be maintained, he is optimistic that the Nigeria will end in a better place as long as the country comes together to face the pandemic.
He said: “We have to work together. The Federal Ministry of Health and its leadership, the Minister; everyone got together and now we have to take advantage of that moment and make sure we don't fragment the answer. We (must) keep it in a response, as we always did in a crisis, and we don't think of it as different ways to respond to the goal. "
He added: “Our principle that has been and will remain is that we must follow an answer and ensure that we align and work together, although our governance structure sometimes leads to various influences on our response.
"When you are in crisis, when you are at war, you cannot have multiple commanders, you cannot have multiple inputs of ideas; we need to have a unified response and that is the responsibility of the Nigeria Disease Control Center, under the leadership of the ministry , with the Presidential Task Force giving us strategic guidelines and guidelines. ”