What You Need to Know About the New COVID-19 Testing Centre in Onitsha

August 23, 2020
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The Onitsha General Hospital made history on August 5 when the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) certified it as a COVID-19 testing centre, thus becoming the first general hospital in Nigeria to be so designated. Here are basic facts about Anambra’s third COVID-19 testing centre you need to know.

1.      The need for the third COVID-19 centre in Anambra State.

There is a need for the third COVID-19 testing centre in Anambra State, even though the first two are not fully utilized. The first centre is Accuanalysis Diagnostic Centre, a public and private partnership (PPP), located in Nnewi. The second centre, the one at the state-owned Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University is the only mega laboratory in the whole of the Southeast. It can test up to 2,350 samples in each cycle of 12 hours because each of the five installed units can test up to 470 samples within this period. It is the Abbott Laboratory brand from the United States, arguably the best in the world. But it can operate only when there are at least 24 samples, and it often takes days to reach this figure. This defect, as lawyers would say, has been cured by the new facility at the Onitsha General Hospital. The new machine at the Onitsha General Hospital can operate even when there is only one sample, and the result can be out within one hour or two.

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2.      The brand of the new coronavirus testing equipment

The brand of the COVID-19 testing equipment at the Onitsha General Hospital is known as GeneXpert from the United States. It has for some time been available in nine hospitals in the state, four missional hospitals and five general hospitals. It is used traditionally to test tuberculosis. With the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, the manufacturers decided to add a mechanism to enable it to test COVID-19. Our Commissioner for Health, Dr Vincent Okpala, who used to work as a medical practitioner in the United States, and his team were following the development closely for months. Their knowledge and skills are beneficial to the state.

3.      How the Genexpert equipment at the Onitsha General Hospital was turned into a COVID-19 testing machine.

Immediately the efficacy of the GeneXpert equipment as a COVID-19 testing machine was established following the introduction or addition of cartridge, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Vincent Okpala, and the Commissioner for Diaspora, Culture, Tourism and Indigenous Art, Dr Christian Madubuko, contacted a distinguished Anambra medical doctor practising cutting-edge medicine in the United States, Dr Leo Egbujobi, an expert in intervention cardiology who hails from Okija in Ihiala Local Government Area, for assistance. Dr Egbujiobi saw that both Dr Okpala and Dr Madubuko knew their onions and were committed to the common good. He and his wife immediately decided to donate Biosafety Level Two cabinet to the state government to enable it to build a third COVID-19 testing centre in the state, this time at the Onitsha General Hospital.  

4.      Onitsha General Hospital is now unique in Nigeria

The Anambra State people are proud that their state is the first state in Nigeria—and so far the only one—to have a general hospital which tests for COVID-19. All the other 62 testing centres in the country are tertiary hospitals or federal medical centres or private labs. The unique status which the Onitsha General Hospital now enjoys will help it to build capacity. It is regrettable that general hospitals in our nation are not what they should be. It is a thing of joy, therefore, that steps are now being taken to rectify the historical errors which the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted with dramatic force.

5.      What becomes of the fate of the Onitsha General Hospital as a major TB testing centre in the state

People have genuinely been worried by the fate of the Onitsha General Hospital as a major tuberculosis testing centre since attention would appear to some people to focus on COVID-19 testing. Six hundred TB tests were conducted at the hospital in the first quarter of this year. It is, in other words, the busiest TB centre in our state. Care has been taken to ensure that it remains the flagship of TB testing while COVID-19 testing goes on well in the same place. The TB tests are done in the daytime while those of COVID-19 are done at night. The Rapid Response Team of the Ministry of Heath has been trained to do 12 hourly shifts and the members are committed to discharging their responsibilities professionally. The team can carry out 48 COVID-19 tests in every shift of 12 hours.

6.      Any plans to expand the state’s COVID-19 capacity

With three testing centres, some people think Anambra State now has excess testing capacity for COVID-19, just as most people think that we have excess protective care centres which other people call isolation centres. We are encouraging all our people to do voluntary testing which is free. It is now mandatory for civil servants to do COVID-19 tests. Early detection is key in the fight against COVID-19. Once an infection is detected early enough, it is pretty easy for our Case Management Team to take care of it. All casualties we have recorded were those whose cases were reported to us very late, sometimes when those infected were already dead. We have mounted a vigorous campaign for early detection of the coronavirus in the state. Governor Willie Obiano has personally written a letter to every bishop in the state and other religious leaders, including the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, on the need to mobilise their followers towards doing COVID-19 tests. We are speaking to various professional associations like the Nigerian Society of Engineers and unions like teachers and traders unions. We are speaking to traditional rulers and presidents general of town unions; I would like to remark here that the Obi of Onitsha, Agbogidi Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, has been outstanding in this regard, as in every assignment he carries out.

As everyone acknowledges, Anambra State has done supremely well in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. It is not fortuitous we have one of the lowest infection figures and hospitalizations in the country, despite having some of the largest markets in West Africa which millions of people from all over West and Central Africa visit daily, thus making them over-congested. We launched the campaign against COVID-19 on January 28, that is, months before any government in Nigeria. Our cabinet members engaged stakeholders in each of the 63 major markets in the state, in each of the major hotels and in each of the motor parks in the state on the dangers of COVID-19 and preventive measures to be taken early enough. As regards lockdowns, we struck a most admirable balance between public health safety and the economic survival of our people. I am confident that public policy researchers anywhere in the world will find our approach to the fight against COVID-19 the most exemplary in Nigeria. 

Signed

C. Don Adinuba

Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment.

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