THE Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Monday disclosed that the country now has the capacity to test 50,000 samples of the coronavirus (COVID-19), following the launch of the ROCHE machine.
The improved testing has a combined capacity of 16 molecular diagnostic testing laboratories, including an activated testing laboratory in Lagos (Gene54).
Also, the Influenza Laboratory at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, has begun operation after five days of closure, owing to the contamination of the facility.
NCDC also said a laboratory in Bayero University, Kano, will commence testing for COVID-19, following its activation.
NCDC Director-General Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu made this known at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja.
He said: “What we have in the country at the moment is a capacity to test about 50,000. This is with the conventional RT-PCR and the new ROCHE equipment that we have launched today.
“The challenge now is all the other things that have to happen – the swabs to collect samples, the virus transport media, the people, etc., and we are coordinating all of this. For every new lab we set up, it means we have to provide the lab with the logistics and everything it needs to collect samples, and we are looking to do these in 36 plus one States.
“Our focus this week is to rapidly scale testing across the country and I’m happy to announce that today we are activating the high throughput ROCHE machine in the NCDC reference lab that will enable us an extra capacity of about 1,000 samples a day if we can get the samples in.
“The ROCHE machine eliminates the need for an extraction kit, so we can actually do a lot more work and do it quickly. So if all the collections happen from the States, we can do up to 900 to 1,000 samples in a day. So really, there is a lot of capacity to test now. The challenge is to bring in the samples quickly and get the equipment working. Partners like the UN family, the US government and other partners have helped to get this working.”
Ihekweazu added: “This weekend, we approved the inclusion of a firm called 54gene to start testing in the private sector in Lagos and Ogun State, and we are currently in discussions with them to move part of their operations to Kano state.
“We have two private labs now – the DNA lab in Kaduna and the 54gene working in Lagos, Ogun, and by next week in Kano. We hope that with this, we will continue growing the network of our private labs in the country.
“On my tweet on Saturday one thing I want colleagues to understand is that I asked for something called an extraction kit; they are not the same thing as the test kit. We have a supply chain of all commodities but there are some slight challenges with things coming into the country now.
“These are things that we have ordered and they are in the process of coming in but we suddenly ran out. So rather than shut down the network of 15 labs in the country, I put out that tweet.
“While we got a lot of criticisms which I expected, something beautiful happened – people came back and solved that problem. Some people brought in the extraction kits, some offered to give it to us for free because they had it in their warehouses.
“There are only four states that have not recorded a case in Nigeria – Cross River, Kogi, Nasarawa, and Yobe State. We are looking at the number of samples collected from those States; we are not satisfied with the number of samples collected, so we need to test more.
“But, to test more we need to collect more and that collection part is the responsibility of states and their public health teams. We want to really encourage every State in Nigeria; you can’t hide this, eventually it will emerge. It is better we understand what is happening early than leave it till we start hearing stories of deaths.”
Concerning the successes recorded so far in Senegal, the NCDC boss said: “Our responsibility is to look into it. We know the company; it is a UK firm working with the lab in Senegal. We are in touch with them already through the Africa Centre for Disease Control and we will look into what the options are.
“The fact is that it is not available yet but they are looking for a time to fully develop in June and we will then start looking at the possibility of expanding its use. They have agreed to a central distribution mechanism to countries through the Africa CDC directly, so that they will manage the bulk purchasing arrangement. So, we will continue speaking to them and make sure that we have access.”
On the expansion of the testing centres in Kano, Ihekweazu said: “About 10 days ago, I announced the activation of the lab in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. We did everything possible very quickly to activate this lab and reduce the turnaround time for the testing of samples. Sometimes speed also has consequences, and in this particular case, unfortunately, we had an incident where the lab was contaminated.
“The biosafety measures had to be strengthened. Therefore, in the interest of all the health care workers in Kano, we had to pause for a few days. We have been working together with people and colleagues to reactivate this lab but we had to do this safely. I am happy to announce that that lab will start working this afternoon and start testing samples again.
“We are also working on another lab in Bayero University so that we can have two labs working concurrently in Kano state.”
He added: “I would like to remind everyone that during a pandemic the risk of spread is in areas where population density is the highest. Because of the population density of Kano, it has always been very high on our radar. The high number of cases we are seeing in Kano is really not a surprise.”