Step up community testing to curtail COVID-19 spread, says AHAPN
*Hospital pharmacists recommend mass testing using rapid diagnostic test kits as inevitable to contain novel coronavirus
Worried by the rising cases and deaths associated with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria, pharmacists under the aegis of the Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN) have called on the governments at all levels to step up community testing of the population and mass testing using rapid diagnostic test kits to identify, isolate and treat positive patients and prevent them infecting the rest of the population.
The Association in a statement, yesterday, jointly signed by the National Chairman, Dr. Kingsley Chiedu Amibor; and the National Secretary, Dr. Hafiz Ola Akande, also decried the scarcity and high cost of hand sanitisers, personal protective equipment and surgical facemasks even as they urged the Federal Government to subsidise costs of importation while encouraging plans for local manufacturing.
They said: “We are of the opinion that there is need to step up community testing of the population with a view to ascertaining the actual number of carriers of the virus and isolate such before more damage is done to the population. The current method of testing using conventional procedure has served well, but with onset of community transmission, mass testing using rapid diagnostic test kits has become inevitable. We implore the government to borrow a leaf from the American Model where the government recently gave approval for community pharmacists to serve as testing centres for the populace to ensure that most people in the population are screened for the disease. Nigeria boasts of community pharmacies in every state of the federation and co-opting them into COVID testing programme will serve to reach the bulk of the population within a very short time.”
While commending the Federal Government for rolling out incentives for healthcare workers including increase in hazard allowance and provision of insurance cover for healthcare workers, the hospital pharmacists said they are however alarmed to hear that 113 healthcare workers in Nigeria were already infected with the disease as at April 30, most of them in the private sector. “This number of infections is highly unacceptable; we are complaining of Nigeria not having adequate number of healthcare workers and now this. All hands must be on deck to protect the lives of our healthcare providers,” the AHAPN said.
They said Nigeria must avoid the experiences of countries in Europe and America that lost hundreds of healthcare workers including pharmacists, medical doctors, nurses and others to COVID-19. The Association said the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) most especially face masks (not cloth masks) and hand gloves on a massive scale for healthcare workers including pharmacists in all government hospitals has become inevitable.
The AHAPN said there are concerns about the safety of hospital pharmacists as some of them wear the cloth masks when interfacing with patients because of inadequate provision of PPE. The Association appealed to the government for urgent action to make the appropriate facemasks available.
The Association called on the government to as a matter of urgency approve importation of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) necessary for the manufacture of hand sanitizers into the country by pharmacists in hospitals and pharmaceutical industry. “These industries have capacity to produce face masks here in Nigeria if the ingredients for manufacture are made locally available. The cost of surgical face masks is currently too exorbitant and government will need to intervene to subsidise costs of importation while encouraging plans for local manufacturing,” they said.
The Association said one strategy that Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) can employ to increase its testing capacity apart from the other strategies it has employed is direct involvement of community pharmacists in identifying patients who need to be tested as stated above.
The hospital pharmacists said the government needed to do more by making personal protective equipment available on large-scale basis for all categories of healthcare workers. “Pharmacists are willing and ready to make hand sanitizers and hand washing soaps available at affordable costs so long as we are able to access the relevant active pharmaceutical ingredients. We call on public-spirited individuals to make facemasks available to the populace as part of post lockdown measures to curtail the spread. Hand sanitizers should be made available, including portable size for use by individuals,” they said.
The Association assured the government that pharmacists at all levels-manufacturing, community, academia and hospital are ready to partner with government to ensure continuous supply of hand sanitizers for preventive use by the Nigerian people, in addition to making sure that drugs currently in use to treat the virus are continually available for use.