Daily Trust (Abuja)

By Ahmed Tahir Ajobe (Lokoja) & Eyo Charles (Calabar)

Kogi and Cross River States have been on the spotlight for quite some time.

Their claims of coronavirus-free status in the face of rising fatalities and spread of the disease across other states, has understandably put them under immense pressure from health experts and institutions as well as the general public.

As at May 14, there were 5,162 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 167 deaths with 1,180 recoveries across 34 states and the FCT.

Kogi and Cross River are the only two states yet to declare any confirmed case of the virus.

There were concerns that the two states have not be doing enough in conducting tests to ascertain the real situation as it regards COVID-19 in the states.

In Kogi, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) in the State had through its chairman, Dr Kabiru Zubairu, warned that the reluctance of the State government to open testing channels and follow laid down protocols in order to understand the COVID-19 situation may escalate transmission of the virus in the state.

It said the anomaly which it noted was hampering proper patient management and could lead to needless deaths of patients with other clinical conditions.

The body said the situation becomes more worrisome as community transmission of the virus escalates in Nigeria.

“The inability of the state to test or follow laid down protocols in order to exclude COVID-19 may lead to needless deaths of patients presenting with other clinical conditions.

“It should be noted that if doctors should attend to one unknown case of COVID-19 in the hospital settings, it may spread to many Health CareWorkers and their families,” it observed.

The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a public health institute, with the mandate to lead the preparedness, detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks and public health emergencies also expressed worries over the state government’s alleged effort to “hide” the true situation of things in the state.

The Centre pointed out that there was no way any states in the federation can be immuned from the virus, adding that the fact that all its neighbors  already have confirmed cases and its position as key gateway makes it more vulnerable.

However, the state government through its Commissioner for Health, Dr Saka Haruna said it was not compulsory that all the states must have confirmed cases, adding it cannot manufacture cases in order to be counted among the states which have recorded same.

“As a Governor, I hear there are ‘benefits’ for having COVID-19 cases in your state; well, I am not interested,” Alhaji Yahaya Bello alleged, while accusing NCDC of needlessly putting pressure on the state to declare “fictitious cases”.

Its zero status, Bello pointed out, was a culmination of many years of public health vigilance, adding that the state’s epidemic management structures were long up and running by the time the NCDC was giving guidelines to states on how to set them up.

But the NCDC apparently not convinced with the state’s position and succumbing to pressure, especially with speculations of alleged death of persons with symptoms akin to that of novel coronavarius, decided to pay an assessment visit to the state.

But the visit did not achieve its purpose and further heightened the tension between the state government and the centre following the order by Governor Bello to  isolate the team leader, Dr Andrew Noah for 14 days in observance of NCDC protocol after shaking hands with a state official.

Speaking during a press briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja shortly after the incident, Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, lamented the hostile reception meted to its officials, adding that its effort to help Kogi ascertain its coronavirus status failed due to some ‘unresolved differences’.

The minister however didn’t say what the unresolved differences are.

The botched attempt at assessing the status of the state had elicited public outcry and concerns by health stakeholders that such development coming at the peak of community transmission, would be detrimental to the state and its people, while expressing fears of a possible Kano backlash.

But there have been few positive developments after the NCDC’s visit though. The state government said it has acquired testing kits and even went ahead to test 111 suspected cases, which it claimed, turned out negative.

This is in addition to the claim that it has also equipped its three isolation centres with state-of-the-art equipment and further accelerated existing emergency response mechanisms.

“There is no state government that can deliberately put her people in harm’s way for whatever political reason. We have and will continue to put the health of our people as first priority”, Bello maintained.

Meanwhile, health experts in Cross River State have urged the state government carry out more testing to enable it ascertain the true status of COVID-19 in the state.

The Association of Medical Laboratory Scientist of Nigeria, AMLSN, Cross River branch believes that there were possibilities of positive cases in the state.

Chairman of the association, Ndem Benedict  insists that more tests be carried out to ascertain the level of success.

The association also said that since the first case of the pandemic was reported in Nigeria, it was difficult to believe that there were no cases in the state when only 10 persons have been tested out of over 4 million people in the state.

He said the mode of transporting samples through public transport was appalling and very suspicious.

“We can only add that the best way to validate the success of state prevention strategy is testing, testing and more testing, as this remains the only method to ascertain the success or otherwise of the preventive strategy deployed thus far in the state.

“So far, since February 27 when the index case was  recorded in Nigeria, of the almost 25,000 test performed in the nation, not more than ten samples (persons) have been tested from Cross River State, to our knowledge,” he said.

Chairman of NMA in Cross River State, Dr Agam Ayuk also urged the government to intensify its campaign against the pandemic in the state by enforcing the stay-at-home and ban on interstate movement.

This is even as the Cross River State Government has declared it does not have any issue with the federal government or its agency, the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC) as being speculated.

State’s Commissioner for Health and chairman for the COVID-19 Response Team, Dr Betta Edu who stated this in Calabar, also assured that they encourage officials of the NCDC to even increase the number of their staff in the state from one if they want.

She assured that their safety would be guaranteed as they arrive the state to investigate whether or not the state is truly COVID-19 negative.

She said its insistence that officials coming to the state are to be quarantined might have fueled the speculation that the state has issues with federal government.

“Far from it; nevertheless, upon their arrival in the state, we will certainly ensure that they are all quarantined for at least 14 days before we will allow them to carry out the purpose of their visit.

“We don’t have to take chances at all.  They must be subjected to the state protocol and go through it; I have no problem with their coming. There is nothing personal; we don’t have any issue with them coming to the state but they have to go through the state protocol.

“Apart from that, we do not have any issues with them nor the federal government. Although, we also insist that our state be isolated and treated specially with adequate supports because we are completely surrounded by states and Cameroon that have positive cases.

“Even the people who came in from the Ministry of Defence were isolated for two weeks.

“They finished their isolation and came to my office for a courtesy visit. I don’t know why they are making so much drama about it or the media is making so much news about it.

“It shouldn’t be a headline in the first place; it should be a normal thing to do, for the safety of the people who you care about. There is no big deal about it.

“The NCDC has a staff in this state and has been participating in many COVID-19 enlightenment programmes in the state. If they want to increase number of their staff, it is okay by us”, she said.

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