‘How low testing capacity, others fuel test kits’ black market ’
• Why govt has not approved anyone, by NCDC
• NAFDAC explains stand on cure claims for COVID-19
The ‘non-approval’ of Rapid Test Kits (RTK) by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) amid the low capacity of the country to test for coronavirus (COVID-19) may be fuelling a black market for the devices.
It was learnt that the patronage of the black market kits, which could undermine the fight against the virus, is growing because the 24 laboratories are not enough to cater for over 200 million Nigerians. It was also learnt that the current technique being used in Nigeria for detecting COVID-19 is difficult to scale up, and this explains why only limited samples have been tested so far.
The fear was heightened by a story trending on Twitter, which suggests there is a black market for COVID-19 test kits and that people buy those kits for $350 for a pack of 15. According to the report, the people resorted to this after calling the NCDC for days and not getting through.
Indeed, Nigeria and most other African countries have very low capacity to test for the virus.
The Guardian investigation revealed that Nigeria has tested only 0.0147 per cent of its population of 200 million. Latest figures (Tuesday May 12) from the NCDC showed that only 29, 408 samples (persons) have been tested in a country of about 200 million people, with 4,787 confirmed cases. For the country to reach one per cent of the population with COVID-19 test, the NCDC would have to test two million citizens.
Explaining the government’s stand on test kits and the consequences yesterday, in an interview with The Guardian, the Director General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said: “The government of Nigeria is not involved in the sale of test kits to any individuals or organisations. The sale and commercial use of rapid test kits for COVID-19 is against our current policy and guidelines.
“These rapid test kits do not meet the required standards for sensitivity and specificity and can produce false positive and false negative results.
“The NCDC is working very hard to scale up laboratory testing capacity across the country. Since May 12, we now have 24 laboratories,up from five that we had in January.
“Our sister agencies- National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) are working hard to validate new technologies and processes as they become available. Once we validate a rapid test kit that meets the required specificity and sensitivity levels, this will be introduced in the country’s laboratory testing strategy.”
Also, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 on Tuesday, insisted that results of rapid test kits were not reliable. Ehanire said people were free to access the kits but he could not vouch for the reliability of the results. According to him, the results can only act as a guide and such people will have to do a confirmatory test to be sure of the result.
A virologist/vaccinologist and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Innovative Biotech, Keffi, Nasarawa State, and Innovative Biotech, United States of America (USA), Dr. Simon Agwale, told The Guardian that the absence of rapid test kits in Nigeria portended danger. He called for an immediate deployment of test kits across Nigeria for easy detection of newest contacts.
According to Agwale, a former researcher at the University of Jos, National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, as well as medical institutions in Brazil, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States, the current molecular diagnostic approach being used in the country is very appropriate because it measures the amount of virus in the blood.
Agwale said the test kits would make things to become easy and could quickly be deployed nationwide for rapid screening.
“In the short term, we need to set up at least COVID-19 testing centres in each of the states and quickly deplore reliable rapid test kits to these centres. Positive samples can then be sent to NCDC for confirmation using molecular technique,” he suggested.
Meanwhile, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has said that the rush to mitigate the mortality and morbidly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the acceleration of product development, repurposing of formulations, off label use of therapeutics and the search for a vaccine to prevent the virus.
The agency, however, noted that it had only received an application from one company for a product the company was presenting (for approval) for the treatment of the symptoms of coronavirus, and not for the cure of Covid-19 as a disease.
In a statement yesterday in Abuja, the Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, who stated that in a bid to discover a cure for the disease, the public had witnessed quite a number of claims from different quarters, complementary and alternative medicines practitioners, traditional healers, and the academia emphasized that the claims were domiciled in either the conventional news media or the social media.
According to her, a claim of a cure must be subjected to clinical evaluation through well-controlled and randomized clinical trials following an approved protocol.
The DG said that the Nigerian Herbal Medicine Product Committee (HMPC) had met three times since inception, on March 15, 2019, September 6, 2019 and the most recent one being a virtual meeting on Thursday May 8, 2020, disclosing that call for expression of interest for the COVID-19 related medicines was made and several researchers and practitioners who responded were being guided to submit such medicines to NAFDAC for expedited review.
She encouraged all stakeholders to present the products of their research findings and allow the remedies go through internationally recognized process of approval through pre-clinical and where applicable, clinical trials.
Adeyeye pointed out that because no vaccine yet exists to prevent further spread of the virus, the huge burden of developing a cure or at best, a treatment for the deadly virus rests squarely on the shoulders of the medical world, of which Nigeria is no exception.
“That Africa as a continent is blessed with diverse plants and herbs that constitute a source of food and medicine is incontrovertible. The drugs of today’s modern society are products of research and development by major pharmaceutical companies.
Among the most important raw materials researched and developed are naturally occurring materials obtained especially from plants. It should be mentioned also, however, that many plants are similarly very poisonous. As the agency that has been saddled with the mandate of safeguarding the health of the citizenry, NAFDAC will continue to make sure that only medicinal product (including herbal remedies) that have proven safety data will be approved for use by the public.”