#COVID19 In Cross River: “The State’s Health Commissioner Owes Nigerians An Explanation For Downplaying Infection Statistics”– Fisayo Soyombo 

July 8, 2020
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Recall that the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Cross River State branch, on Tuesday commenced an indefinite strike to protest against the handling of Covid-19 cases in the state by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the state government.

“The association demands explanation from NCDC why the five COVID-19 cases from University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) confirmed at the NCDC-accredited Molecular Laboratory at Alex Ekwueme University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, have not reflected in the daily situation report of NCDC since July 1, 2020”, the association had stated in a press statement addressed to the Minister of Health, and signed by NMA state chairman, Dr. Agam Ayuk, and secretary, Dr. Ezoke Epoke.

Although The NMA in Cross River on Wednesday, July 8 suspended its indefinite withdrawal of services in all public and private hospitals in the state, Nigerian Investigative Journalist Fisayo Soyombo has emphasised the concerns of the NMA, pointing out discrepancies in the statistics on Covid19 in Cross River State and pinpointing them as trigger for the warning strike embarked on yesterday, by the State’s Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) branch.

Soyombo in a series of tweets on Wednesday, pointed out that for four months, all samples submitted for testing by the Cross River State Govt returned negative for COVID-19.

However, just last week, all five samples independently collected by UCTH and tested at an NCDC-approved lab returned positive.

“To place this in proper context, it is not just that these five samples collected by the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) tested positive, the owners of the samples had merely exhibited MILD COVID-19 symptoms”, Soyombo explained in a series of  detailed tweets on Thursday.

“Since the symptoms were mild, doctors were expecting only one or two to be positive. Turned out all five were”.

“Meanwhile, majority of the samples collected and declared negative by the state had exhibited CLASSICAL symptoms of the virus.

Classical samples collected by the state yielded negative results but mild, independently-collected samples yielded +positive”

Soyombo said that contrary to data from the Nigeria Center for Disease Control(NCDC) which revealed that as of June 30, only eight samples from Cross River had been tested in the four-month period.

However, Soyombo said his findings  confirm that 25 samples were collected from University of Cross River Teaching Hospital (UCTH) alone.

Like the State’s NMA, Soyombo reiterated that the Cross River State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Betta Edu, owed Nigerians an explanation as to the outstanding 17 samples.

He said:

“Were they missing? Were they damaged? Were they deliberately not submitted? Why did they not get to the NCDC?
And this is assuming that apart from UCTH, no sample was collected anywhere else in the whole of Cross River.
In any case, this is not the biggest question Dr. Edu has to answer.

“She had declared that the samples of Mr. Godwin Akwaji, the Cross River State House of Assembly member who died at the UCTH isolation centre on June 18, were negative. But there’s no record anywhere that his samples ever got to NCDC.
What happened to Akwaji’s samples?
And where did this negative result emanate from?”

“This wasn’t the only dubiously-announced negative result by the state. Meanwhile, at least 10 of the 20 suspected COVID-19 cases admitted at the hospital have died, even though all of their samples were declared negative!”

This information manipulation by the state has neutralized any genuine health effort to break the wider chain of COVID-19 transmission and infection, Soyombo pointed out.

Recall that the NMA had passed a vote of no confidence in the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Betta Edu, and referred her to the NMA National Disciplinary Committee and Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) for the unethical handling of COVID-19 testing in the state, thus putting lives at risk and bringing the association to disrepute.

“So, you go on strike because NCDC refused to upload results? This is killing the same people NMA swore to protect. This is bad,” Edu said.

She rejected claims that the state had not managed the COVID-19 pandemic well, insisting that it had been above board and even at the forefront of managing the pandemic in the country, having started as early as January 7, 2020 by engaging in sensitisation and setting up the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) with the NMA.

According to the Investigative Journalist, Cross River has a higher transmission rate than previously recorded.
“The real truth is: COVID-19 has travelled faster in Cross River than the records show (and lots of doctors are exposed)”.

-Information Manipulation?-

According to Soyombo, NCDC couldn’t announce the positive cases as part of its daily updates — because the Cross River State Government had refused to generate a state epidemiology code number for the five samples.
Without those code numbers, NCDC couldn’t label those samples and include them in the report.

Soyombo however posited that the real statistics  would be revealed soon, as The Federal Ministry of Health and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 have sent a 17-man rapid response team to Calabar to align the state’s COVID-19 response with the national strategy.

“If the team does its job well and is able to avoid the kind of trap that hooked the group that was dispatched to Kogi in early May, then we should be getting a truer picture of Cross River’s COVID-19 status pretty soon”, he said.

“If in doubt, keep an eye on UCTH’s independent sample collection over the next few weeks”.

NCDC’s recent approval for UCTH to send samples independent of the state govt has been a master stroke, according to Soyombo.

“It is the single biggest reason the lies can no longer continue undetected”, he said.

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