Why Nigeria has conducted fewer COVID-19 tests than Ghana, others
*UK, US was able to cover more grounds by empowering community pharmacists, private facilities in COVID-19 testing
Community pharmacists under the aegis of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) have warned that the country is lagging behind in efforts to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) because of the low capacity to test for the dreaded virus.
They said Nigeria has conducted less than 15,000 tests compared to Ghana, its close neighbour with close to 70,000 tests, South Africa with over 100,000 tests and even Egypt with close to 60,000 conducted tests; because the government is not engaging the private sector, particularly community pharmacies and private laboratories.
ACPN is a technical group of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), the umbrella body of all pharmacists registered and practising in Nigeria.
To address the situation, National Chairman, ACPN, Dr. Samuel Oluwaoromipin Adekola, on Tuesday, called for the immediate engagement of community pharmacists in community data gathering and eventual COVID-19 testing with rapid molecular diagnostic strips in Nigeria.
Adekola said this would necessarily become a game-changer as currently being observed in other more serious economies like the United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.). He said UK and US have been able to cover more grounds in COVID-19 because they empowered community pharmacies to carry out testing in their facilities
The community pharmacist also decried the marginalisation of members by Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, exemption from among healthcare practitioners to receive personal protective equipment, and exclusion from any form of insurance and benefits package in Nigeria.
Adekola also urged the Federal Government to prevail on Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to establish special intervention fund for growth of community pharmacy and extend the current programme for critical and essential services.
Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) has prioritised testing as one of the key interventions to the COVID-19 response in Nigeria. In order to rapidly contain the outbreak, the Government of Nigeria plans to rapidly scale diagnostic testing to cover all 36 States plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in the National Strategy to Scale Up Access to COVID-19 testing in Nigeria stated, “Between May and September 2020; we will roll out mass testing to survey the population, to learn more about this virus and contribute to research and development.”
Adekola said: “By default world over community pharmacies remain the closest and the most accessible primary health-care facilities to the people in cities, communities and villages, hence the first point of call for over 70 per cent of consumers of health in our clime as documented in national studies. Little wonder Community pharmacists continue to serve the country as front-line health-care providers even in the face of the current dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. The latter underscores the continuous risks and potential hazard facing every community pharmacist in practice.
“The continuous marginalisation and outright sidelining of community pharmacists by health authorities in Nigeria and now by the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 in all its great initiatives and programmes that include but not limited to both social and economic palliatives is highly disheartening. The current scenario is akin to the consistent exclusion of community pharmacists in the country’s non-performing National Health Insurance Scheme.
“For instance, community pharmacists who are the first port of call for health interventions of varying depths are not covered by any form of insurance and benefits package in Nigeria, but this same cadre of personnel were singled out for praise by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for sustaining services when doctor’s clinics (surgeries) in the private sector were closed in the throes of the plague of COVID-19.
“…The UK and the US have been able to cover more grounds in COVID-19 testing and management of asymptomatic clients simply because it has taken advantage of the proximity of its citizens to community pharmacies which will always remain ‘grassroots healthcare facilities’.”
Adekola called on the Federal Republic to immediately capture community pharmacists as part of the healthcare practitioners to benefit from the distribution of the personal protective equipment and every other palliative being designed for the healthcare sector at this time of the unrelenting fight against COVID-19.
While appreciating the recent Federal Government intervention through the CBN for the N100 billion intervention fund established for essential services and including pharmacies in the bracket as a major engagement that hopes to turn around the fortune and the impact of the sector for the overall good of the country, Adekola called on the Federal Government to prevail on the CBN to forthwith establish a special fund in the like manner as done during this COVID-19 intervention as a permanent platform for the growth of community pharmacy in Nigeria with the understanding the pharmaceutical value chain is pivotal as the major link between the manufacturing and consumers of health with huge potential of gainful employment generation.
“We, therefore, request the leadership of CBN to deeply consider the extension of the current programme of financial intervention for critical and essential services with Pharmacies prominently and continuously benefiting from this platform going forward,” he said.