Isolation centres for potential patients suffering from the coronavirus disease are not ready in the Federal Capital Territory and some states such as Kano, Rivers and Ogun, The PUNCH’s investigations have revealed.
Our correspondents’ findings in the FCT and the states showed that while some of the centres were still under construction, others lacked necessary equipment for patients and medical personnel that would work in the centres.
It was also gathered that the Federal Government had posted more medical personnel to international airports to assist in the screening of passengers.
Nigeria recorded its first coronavirus case on Thursday when an Italian businessman, who was on a visit to Lafarge Africa Plc, Ewekoro, Ogun State, was diagnosed with the disease.
The Italian, who arrived in Lagos on Monday aboard a Turkish Airlines flight, was said to have spent the night in a hotel around the airport before he was driven in a Lafarge vehicle to Ewekoro on Tuesday morning.
When he fell ill on Wednesday, he went to the company clinic, where he tested negative for malaria and he was subsequently referred to Lagos, where he tested positive to coronavirus.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, had on Saturday said the Italian was clinically stable.
Both the Lagos and Ogun state governments have identified no fewer than 100 people who had contact with the index case. At least 39 of them are being quarantined in Ogun State.
FCT isolation centre still under construction—Resident doctors
In the FCT, when one of our correspondents visited the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada on Sunday, he observed that the proposed isolation centre was actually under construction with low dry grass surrounding part of the premises.
Although there were no construction workers on site, an employee of the hospital said they were present until Saturday evening and that they only rested on Sunday. She said they would resume work on the site on Monday.
Doctors at the teaching hospital said the health institution was not ready to serve as an isolation centre in the event of coronavirus cases.
As part of its preparedness for coronavirus, the Federal Government said some isolation centres had been identified across the country, with one of the facilities said to have been located at the UATH.
It said in case any passenger developed coronavirus symptom at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, the person would be housed at the teaching hospital in Gwagwalada, Abuja.
The Chairman of the Association of Resident Doctors in the hospital, Dr Bob Abbah, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the level of preparation was low and that the hospital management did not involve resident doctors in any preparation for coronavirus.
He said, “There is a building on the premises that has yet to be completed; that is the proposed isolation centre. People are talking about the hospital as an isolation centre (for coronavirus); that is how we heard about it. Nobody has called us (doctors) to inform us or involve us in any discussion or preparation that a centre has been put in place.
“We heard that the uncompleted building is an isolation centre but we have not been briefed on any modality or (handling of) equipment in the centre. We do not know what equipment has been brought in to work with.
“In fact, when I heard that there was a patient with haemorrhagic viral fever and that he was to be referred to the teaching hospital, I was wondering where he would be taken to (isolated) because the isolation centre I know is the one under construction.”
Asked if there was a temporary isolation centre being considered before the completion of the one under construction, Abbah said he was unofficially aware that there was a move to convert the accident and emergency annex building into a temporary isolation centre. He however said even the proposed building was not fully completed.
When one of our correspondents visited the accident and emergency building, it was locked with no sign of it being in use already. The ARD boss said there was no furniture in the building.
Abbah added, “I heard that the Minister of Health visited the hospital to inspect the building under construction and the CMD stated that the accident and the emergency annex, which is also under construction and not equipped, will be used as an isolation centre for patients pending when the new one will be completed. I was not called to be part of the meeting.
“We felt that we are supposed to be part of this arrangement but we are watching and waiting. Maybe when they open the place, since they did not inform us and they are also doctors, they can handle the centre by themselves. Nobody told us the level of preparedness and what is expected of us as resident doctors in the hospital.”
One of the doctors in the hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said health workers in the hospital had not been trained in how to handle coronavirus infected persons.
He said, “As it is now, I don’t think that any doctor knows the teaching hospital is designated for training in coronavirus care. One thing is to know that your centre is designated (as an isolation centre), but nobody here has told us that this place is an isolation centre. We are not aware of that.”
When one of The PUNCH correspondent visited the office of the Public Relations Officer of the hospital, Mr Frank Omagbon, he was not around to speak on the state of the isolation centre and what the doctors said.
When contacted on his mobile telephone, he said he was on holiday and not in a position to speak for the hospital. He also directed our correspondent to direct all enquiries to the CMD of the hospital.
He said, “I am on holiday now and will not be able to speak on that. I will advise you to go to the hospital on Monday and see the CMD. If I’m in office, it would be different.”
Also, there were indications on Sunday that the Rivers State isolation centre was not ready. When contacted, the state acting Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr Chinwe Atata, refused to disclose the location of the isolation centre.
Atata, who is also the Director, Planning, Research and Statistics, said, “We have an isolation centre. But for reason of confidentiality, we will not give that information out.”
She, however, stated that the state was ready to fight the dreaded coronavirus.
Atata said, “For the avoidance of doubt, there is no known case of coronavirus in the state as of now. The state has mapped out isolation treatment centres in case of any eventuality.”
Kano centre still being upgraded
In Kano, it was learnt that the state government was still upgrading its isolation centre In Yargaya, which was previously meant for Lassa fever patients.
One of our correspondents observed that pieces of medical equipment were being taken to the centre on Sunday.
But the state Commissioner for Health, Aminu Tsanyawa, at a press conference in Kano, said the state was ready to tackle any outbreak of coronavirus in the state.
Foreign airlines violating screening procedures, says Kano
He alleged that foreign airlines at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport were not adhering to screening procedures for their passengers.
He stated, “The foreign airlines have refused to issue screening forms that will identify the details of the health conditions of passengers, they are airlifting.
“If airlines conduct proper screening, passengers with the symptoms of coronavirus will be promptly identified and such a patient will be referred to our isolation centre for diagnosis.”
Ogun begs FG to upgrade isolation centre
In Ogun State, although 39 people, who had contact with the index case, were being quarantined at a facility in Lafarge, there were indications on Sunday that the state isolation centre was not fully ready.
The state government cried out for help over the state of the isolation centre located at the Olabisi Onabanjo Teaching Hospital, Sagamu.
The government, through the Special Adviser to Governor Dapo Abiodun on Communications, Remmy Hassan, on Sunday said the centre had been prepared long before the outbreak of the virus.
He said Governor Dapo Abiodun had raised concerns over the shortage of centres for disease control in the country.
He said, “That was why the governor was mentioning that the infectious disease centres were just three – one in Lagos, one in Irua in Edo State which serve the whole South, and one in Abuja.
“So, the thinking of the state government is that the Federal Government should further extend it to Ogun State by allowing the isolation centre at the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital to be upgraded to an NCDC centre.
“We are begging the Federal Government to help us upgrade it to an NCDC centre like in Irua and Lagos.
“We will not have to wait till sample gets to Lagos before ascertaining the correct status of suspected people we feel are infected .”
While explaining the challenges over the state of the isolation centre, Hassan said the stress of taking the sample of any suspected victim from the state to Lagos with the traffic on the expressway discouraged the government.
He said, “If somebody is in a critical condition and we need the result to know how to administer treatment to him, going to Lagos will take four hours and coming back will take another four to five hours and the time in the hospital too will take more hours that is like a whole day.
“And the condition of the patient will further deteriorate because you will not know what to treat if you don’t have the result of the test that you are consulting.
“ So, that isolation centre is there, but we are begging that it should be upgraded to a centre that can test for COVID-19.”
FG deploys more medical workers in airports
Meanwhile, a source on Sunday said the Federal Government was deploying more medical personnel to assist in screening passengers at international airports across the country.
The source said the medical personnel from state and federal ministries of health and university teaching hospitals came in on Friday to ensure that there were enough people on the ground.
It was gathered that among the personnel deployed were doctors, nurses and environmental scientists to work with other health officials at the airports.
The source said, “There has been what we describe as staff surge to increase manpower of health workers at the airports. When people come in large numbers, there should be enough health workers to screen them.
“In Kano, there are deployment from the Mallam Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital; Lagos has support service from the Ministry of Health. There are also personnel from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and screening is ongoing intensively.
The source explained that in Abuja, the NCDC and medical personnel from the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital had been deployed to support those on the ground.
Although the method of screening through thermal scanners programmed to monitor temperature of passengers and capture their pictures had not changed, The PUNCH source said monitoring had increased with more medical personnel on the ground.
Meeting of inter-ministerial committee on COVID-19 holds today
The development is coming ahead of a meeting of the inter-ministerial committee in Abuja on Monday (today) to give clear guidelines on the changes that will take place at the airports as well as health facilities for the control of the COVID-19.
The Minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, confirmed to The PUNCH on Sunday that efforts were being made to deploy doctors from tertiary institutions in the airports.
Mamora said the move was temporary, adding that it would have no adverse affect on the capacity of tertiary hospitals.
The minister, however, said he could not immediately say how many doctors were being deployed.
He said, “I am aware of efforts to deploy doctors from tertiary hospitals in the airports. The move will not weaken the capacity in the hospitals. Don’t forget that even now, some of the hospitals at the tertiary level have under-utilisation of personnel, especially doctors.
“And it is where we have excess capacity that we will deploy from. Of course, it is not on a permanent basis but as demanded by the situation at hand, just to ensure that we are not leaving any stone unturned.”
“I cannot give figures right now but whatever is being deployed is based on demand.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority said it would be working with the Federal Ministry of Health and other stakeholders in the aviation industry to ensure that all travellers coming into the country were adequately screened.
The Director General, NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, in a statement on Sunday, said all contingency plans for public health events in aviation had been activated, including airport-specific Public Health Emergency Contingency Plans.
FG must provide protective equipment for doctors – NMA
The President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Prof. Francis Faduyile, on his part, called on the Federal Government to provide enough personal protective equipment for its members that would be drafted to the point of entries at the airports.
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday, Faduyile also called for the training of doctors on how to handle the personal protective equipment so as not to contract the disease while on duty.
Lagos creates more isolation centres
The Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Sunday said two additional containment centres had been created by the state government for the management of COVID-19.
He spoke during a visit to the state-owned bio-security and containment facility at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, where the Italian national diagnosed with the disease is being managed.
The governor said both the state and the Federal Government health care officials were working round the clock with infectious disease control professionals from international agencies to ensure that the counter measures being deployed to contain the virus achieved results.
“I am very delighted with the level of preparedness and our response to stop coronavirus from spreading in our country. The kind of structures we have put in place and the strategies being deployed have raised my confidence that the nation, at the end of the day, will win this battle and will put it behind. I keep on expressing to the commissioner for health that we must stop at nothing to achieve the very best result,” he added.
The Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, likened the state’s response to containing the outbreak of COVID-19 as “a war”, saying Lagos had deployed three levels of counter measures to stop the spread of the virus, which included medical, security and research.