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Kano adopts verbal autopsy on strange deaths

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Security operatives intercepted a supposed food truck that was conveying passengers from Kano State to Kaduna State during COVID-19 lockdown…yesterday. PHOTO: ABDULGANIYU ALABI


• Records two new cases as three positive persons evade evacuation
• Kwankwaso cautions govt on new epicentre of pandemic

Kano State Governor Umar Ganduje yesterday directed the state Ministry of Health to carry out verbal autopsy to determine the cause of the recent wave of strange deaths in the state.

Verbal autopsy is a method of gathering information about symptoms and circumstances for a deceased individual to determine their cause of death. Health information and a description of events prior to death are acquired from conversations or interviews with a person or persons familiar with the deceased. These are then analysed by health professionals or computer algorithms to assign likely cause(s) of death.

The governor, according to a statement issued by Commissioner for Information Muhammad Garba, directed a combined team from the Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to undertake the investigation across the eight local government areas within Kano city.

The statement reads: “I am pleased to inform the good people of Kano State that verbal autopsy to determine the real cause of the deaths of our citizens who lost their lives over the weekend has begun in earnest.

“Following the directive of the governor, health experts from the state Ministry of Health and the NCDC have been drafted to visit the families and relatives of the dead so as to trace their medical history, with a view to ascertaining what really led to their deaths.

“Our primary healthcare system has also been re-activated across the 44 local government areas to guarantee easy access to healthcare delivery, even as we continue to battle the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ganduje, who called for calm, urged residents to continue to adhere strictly to the advice by health experts on how to avoid contracting COVID-19.

“At this point, all of us must come together, irrespective of religious and political affiliations, to overcome this health challenge facing our great state.

“We solicit the cooperation of religious leaders, political leaders, opinion leaders, community leaders, traditional rulers and every other stakeholder to enlighten our people on the need to stay safe and stay healthy.

“The state government also wishes to passionately appeal to residents to religiously observe the lockdown order, stay at home, observe personal hygiene, wash their hands regularly, observe social distancing and also pray fervently for the end of this dark era of the novel COVID-19 pandemic.

“Together, we shall win this war. This turbulent time shall pass away. We shall come out stronger and better; and our dear state will be great again,” he added.

At the weekend, the Kano State government had acknowledged and decried the rising death rates in the state, although it declared none was caused by COVID-19.

Garba, in a statement, said: “The state government acknowledges recent deaths in Kano, but it is on top of the situation. We have begun an investigation to unravel the remote causes of the deaths.

“The investigation into the cause of the deaths is still ongoing, but a preliminary report of the state’s Ministry of Health indicates that the deaths are not connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Reports from the ministry have shown that most of the deaths were caused by complications arising from hypertension, diabetes, meningitis and acute malaria.

“Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje is anxiously waiting for the final report so as to take necessary action.”In an interview with the BBC Hausa Service yesterday, Ganduje accused the Federal Government of ignoring Kano in the fight against the pandemic even as he disclosed that the state needs N15 billion to contain the disease.

“The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control COVID -19 testing laboratory at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital has been shut for almost a week and we are not able to conduct tests and send them to Abuja for analysis. The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 is yet to do anything about this despite my complaints,” he said.

But at a media briefing yesterday, the chairman of the Presidential Task Force and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said the situation in Kano was being addressed very closely by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in strong partnership with the state government and guidance by the Federal Ministry of Health as well as support from development partners.Also speaking, Minister of State for Health Olorunnimbe Mamora said the ministry had deployed teams to Kano based on the state’s recent “disturbing deaths.” This came as three persons who tested positive for COVID-19 fled their homes in Kano State yesterday before evacuation to an isolation centre.

“The persons refused to be picked up at their homes. In other words, they went into hiding while their phones were switched off. Their samples were collected and the results came out positive. It was communicated to them and we told them that our Rapid Response Team was coming to pick them. On arrival, we realised the persons had run away,” said Dr. Tijani Hussain, the coordinator of the COVID-19 task force in Kano.

He said: “I can confirm that the three persons did not run away from an isolation centre as it is being circulated by some media.” He assured that the persons would be traced and evacuated through the assistance of security agencies.

According to Hussain, Kano now has two more cases of death from COVID-19, bringing the total casualties to three amid 77 confirmed cases of the disease as at yesterday.

Meanwhile, a former Kano State governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, yesterday decried the “uncoordinated and unprofessional” manner the state government was fighting the pandemic.

In an open letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, the chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) expressed concern over the “very scary rise in the number of people that are mysteriously dying in Kano every day since the commencement of the fight against COVID-19 and the eventual lockdown of the state.”

He also worried about “the frightening reality of the tendency of the present health emergency (which has already placed unbearable financial burden on both the citizens and the nation) to metamorphose into a security emergency.”

According to him, “At present, and to all intent and purposes, the state has practically no COVID-19 response committee. What was hitherto working, as a committee, was a contraption of cronies that are both unqualified and incompetent. As such, they kowtow to the whims of politicians without any regard for professional healthcare considerations. The committee technically disbanded itself when the majority of the members tested positive for COVID-19.”

He warned: “Kano is the most populous state in the country and Kano city is one of the biggest in Africa. Experts have expressed concern that if the Kano situation is not handled professionally, sincerely, efficiently and competently, we have the tendency of becoming the epicentre of this disease in Africa in a matter of months.”

Kwankwaso advised the Federal Government to ensure the constitution of a proper task force on COVID-19 with members selected based on professionalism and competence. “At least five additional test centres should be established with 10 other sample collection centres across the state,” he said.

Similarly, an Islamic human rights group, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), yesterday sent a Save Our Soul message to the Federal Government urging it to intervene immediately on the strange deaths in Kano State.

“Too many people are dying in Kano these days. It is too unusual. We suspect COVID-19. We need help in Kano very urgently. This is an S.O.S. The Federal Government must act with dispatch. We cannot afford to play the waiting game in this matter. We may not overwhelm COVID-19 even if we succeed in containing it in the rest of the country. This is because Kano is strategically positioned. The virus can easily spread to the North West, North East and then down South,” the group said in the message released by its director, Ishaq Akintola.

MURIC advised Kano citizens and the rest of Nigerians to “take half a tea-spoonful of habat as-sauda (black seed) with honey every morning to boost their immunity.”

Urging “Kano citizens to strictly obey rules set by health officials, particularly social distancing, washing of hands regularly with soap, using sanitisers and staying at home,” the group added: “The government must be vicious to be triumphant. Violators of lockdown rules must be dealt with according to the law while the lockdown on Kano must not be lifted until the rate of death slows down to a reasonable level.”


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