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Flying Doctors’ boost Nigeria’s COVID-19 testing

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Red-gloved hands gently dip cotton swabs down nostrils and mouths of people taking turns to stand in front of a tall booth, masks lowered and head tilted backwards. Inside the booth to which the gloves are attached is a COVID-19 sample collector.

Set up by Nigerian health investment firm Flying Doctors in eight of the country’s worst-affected states, the mobile booths, which separate the sample collector from the people being tested, have boosted COVID-19 testing. Between 80 and 100 samples are collected per booth every day, although the number varies among states. Nigeria is conducting an average of 2500–3000 tests daily.

Flying Doctors founder, Dr Ola Brown, explains that at the start of the pandemic, Nigeria had few people trained to take COVID-19 test samples, and collectors would also visit people at homes to take samples, heightening infections risks through exposure.

“It [the sample collection booth] reduces to zero the number of infections on the people conducting the tests. Secondly, it also saves a lot of time compared [with] the people testing having to go to people’s houses to do the tests and thirdly, it saves money because people [are] not having to change their PPE [personal protective equipment]” frequently, says Dr Brown.

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For Dr Walter Kazadi, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Nigeria, “expanding access to services such as sample collection and diagnostic testing are critical for an effective response.” WHO continues to support Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control and the national response system by providing resources for training and supplies for sample collection and testing.

The COVID-19 response across Africa has propelled a raft of innovations. Across the continent, innovators have worked to create tools to help public health experts manage challenges ranging from contact tracing and clinical care to local production of equipment and supplies as well as laboratory and testing materials.

Many of the innovations were already existing but have had to be redirected or adapted to COVID-19 response. For example, Zipline, a California-based firm, repurposed its high-speed drones that were in use in both Ghana and Rwanda to deliver medical packages to clinics and hospitals to now identify COVID-19 hotspots and collect samples. In anticipation of new treatments and vaccines that may become available, the company is poised to help with distribution.

In Kenya, to support contact tracing in public transport, a mobile phone-based application, mSafari, was launched in March by its developers in collaboration with the ministries of Health and Transport.

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Most of the innovations are homegrown. The mobile booths in Nigeria are made locally. In all there are 14 booths in Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Rivers and Zamfara states. Flying Doctors also has transformed one vehicle into a mobile laboratory. In total, the organization has three laboratories. It has trained more than 100 molecular laboratory scientists to carry out COVID-19 testing.

Working with various foundations, the organization has made its testing free to encourage people to turn up. COVID-19 testing in Africa still lags other regions of the world. The World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa recommends 10 tests per 10 000 people per week in the region. Just 12 countries recently surpassed the threshold.

While Africa has recorded relatively fewer COVID-19 infections compared with other regions, the decline in cases seen between July and September has plateaued, with spikes in cases reported in some countries. Dr Brown stressed the criticality of testing and maintenance of vigilance on COVID-19.

“I think [that] one of the things that has really impacted the focus on testing is the fact that not many people have died in Africa compared [with] Europe or America. When people aren’t dying and when people aren’t getting horrifically sick and we’re not seeing those numbers of course it [testing] gets deprioritized especially in a country that has limited resources,” she says.

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“It’s important for everybody to remain vigilant … and continue to really keep our guard up.”

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Health

Yuletide: Observe COVID-19 safety protocols, virus still in our midst, Oyo govt. warns residents

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Oyo state government , on Tuesday, warned residents to continue to strictly observe the COVID-19 safety protocols, as it declared that the virus is still very much around.

An advisory by the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) of the state warned that COVID-19 “is still very much around with us,” adding that residents of Oyo State must strictly adhere to safety protocols even during the Yuletide.

The advisory indicated that Oyo residents should, at this period, follow the direction of the state-sponsored advocacy on COVID-19, #Own Your Action, noting that responsible living and strict adherence to the guidelines will help the state to curtail the spread of the disease during the festive period.

A statement by Mr. Taiwo Adisa, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seyi Makinde, indicated that the advisory by the EOC equally commended residents of the state for the efforts made so far in complying with the COVID-19 prevention measures in the state.

The statement read: “The State Government salutes the resilience and fortitude with which members of the public have carried themselves in spite of all the challenges faced in the year 2020. We believe as the year comes to an end, and another year is on the horizon, the hopes and aspirations of the citizens of the state will be actualised.

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“With this, it is expected that as responsible citizens of our dear state, we will continue to comply with the COVID-19 prevention measures in public places especially offices, shopping malls and outlets, schools, recreation centres and any location outside the homes.”

The statement warned that in light of the end of the year activities and forthcoming festivities, visitors and residents of the state would have to be responsible in organising social events, noting that all events must be organised in compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines.

The government promised to continue to work assiduously to deliver on its promises to the citizens, noting, however, that residents should “share the joy and not the virus,” at the period.

“The reality of end of year social activities which involves traveling into and also within the state will soon commence with the festivities. This is to implore visitors and residents of the state to be wise and responsible in attending and organising social events in compliance with the state COVID-19 advisories.

“Thus, religious and community leaders, organisers of end of year programmes including children parties and concerts, as well as owners of recreational facilities, are to remember that the pandemic is ongoing, and to ensure the orderly conduct of their activities to prevent widespread infections in the State.

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“The government of Oyo State will continue to work assiduously to deliver on her promises to the citizens.

“Let’s make this a season to ‘spread the joy, not the virus,” the statement read, while wishing all residents happy celebrations.

 

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138 NYSC members test positive for COVID-19, NCDC reveals

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No fewer than than 138 members of the National Youth Service  Corps (NYSC) had so far tested positive for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and have been isolated, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) disclosed.

NCDC also revealed that 34,685 people have been tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) across all the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) camps in the country.

The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, made this known on Monday at the briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

Dr. Ihekweazu added that those whose samples were collected included corps members and NYSC officials in various camps.

“We tested over the last few weeks a total, so far, of 34,785 people of which we found a total of 138 positive only.

“So, we have a total prevalence of 0.4 per cent; in fact, about one in 200 new people coming into the camps turned out to be positive.

“None of them were allowed into the camp; all of them were excluded and either managed at home or the treatment centre depending on if they had symptoms and what state they were in,” the NCDC boss added.

He also spoke about the progress made so far in the area of vaccination against the disease, noting that four vaccines had already been announced.

Dr Ihekweazu stated that while these have brought excitement, there were lots to consider to guide decisions on which to go for when they became available.

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who also briefed reporters, gave an update on COVID-19 infections, treatment, and fatalities.

He was that Nigeria was by no means out of the woods yet and urged the people to present themselves for testing.

Dr Ehanire said the PTF would continue to keep vigilance as COVID-19 cases surge in other parts of the world.

He gave an assurance that the ministry was taking measures to ensure that vaccine security was sure once they were available for the public.

The minister also disclosed that it has been confirmed that the strange deaths in Delta and some other states were as a result of yellow fever.

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Experimental COVID-19 Vaccine Shows 95% Effectiveness – Pfizer, BioNTech

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Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that a completed study of their experimental Covid-19 vaccine showed it was 95 percent effective.

They said the two-dose vaccine had no serious safety concerns and that the companies will apply for emergency use authorization from US regulators “within days.”

The announcement came as coronavirus cases are surging in the US and other parts of the world, and boosted hopes for an end to the pandemic that has upended life around the globe.

“The study results mark an important step in this historic eight-month journey to bring forward a vaccine capable of helping to end this devastating pandemic,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

“With hundreds of thousands of people around the globe infected every day, we urgently need to get a safe and effective vaccine to the world,” he added.

Pfizer had said last week after a preliminary analysis that its product was more than 90 percent effective.

On Monday another biotech firm involved in the race to develop a vaccine, Moderna, said its own vaccine was 94.5 percent effective, according to a preliminary analysis.

Pfizer has previously said it expected to contact the US Food and Drug Administration to apply for an Emergency Use Authorization by the third week of November.

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The FDA had imposed a requirement on Covid-19 vaccine makers of having at least two months of follow-up with volunteers after their second dose, taken 28 days after the first, in order to ensure the drugs are safe.

Moderna developed its vaccine along with the US National Institutes for Health.

Both vaccines use mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology to deliver genetic material to the body that makes human cells create a protein from the virus.

This trains the immune system to be ready to attack if it encounters SARS-CoV-2.

Other vaccines that are in late-stage trials, such as one being developed by Johnson & Johnson and another by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, use modified viruses to deliver genetic material for the same purpose.

No mRNA vaccines have ever been approved, but Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease scientist, told AFP Tuesday the technology had now “established itself.”

-AFP

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