COVID-19: Finally, NCDC Confirms 5 Cases In Cross River As Government, NMA Disagree

In Breaking News, Health, International News, Reports

By Archibong Jeremiah – Managing Editor, Jonathan Ugbal – News Editor, Patrick Obia – Reporter

  • NMA accuse Government of politicization
  • CSOs lament not being carried along
  • Government decries conspiracy in high places

The hullabaloos of why five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Cross River State was not confirmed by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and updated in it’s situation report has been laid to rest.

In the recent situation report published by NCDC on it’s official Twitter handle on Monday, 6 July, 2020, saw a total of 575 (five hundred and seventy five) new cases recorded with Cross River State having 5 positive cases.

As at the time of filing this report, the Cross River State Government is yet to react to the new development.

War of Words

Recall that the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) Cross River State chapter led by Dr. Agam Ayuk and Cross River State Government headed by Dr. Betta Edu have been at loggerhead for over 3 weeks and have made several headlines.

The Cross River chapter of NMA on several occasion accused the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Betta Edu of not being transparent and accountable in the Sen. Ben Ayade led administration’s approach in combatting the dreaded virus. The accusations never went without matching response reiterating that the State is COVID-19 free.

Lockdown Enforcement

When the coronavirus pandemic broke out leading to the nationwide lockdown and strategizing on how to combat the pandemic, a Presidential Task Force was formed at the Federal level with the 36 State Government in Nigeria adopting same, guidelines was issued by NCDC.

The guidelines were ban of public gatherings, use a facemask (clothe facemask not inclusive), maintain social distance (2 meters apart), if you must sneeze use a handkerchief or fold your elbow and if you have difficulty in breathing, call the NCDC hotline.

The Cross River State Government deployed its Task Force. The Cross River State Governor, Sen. Ben Ayade while briefing journalists in Calabar, the State capital faulted social distancing as a way of preventing the spread of the virus.

He unveiled the clothe facemask brandishing it’s protective abilities. After weeks of criticism from NMA, CSOs and a host of Nigerians and foreigners it was adopted as the cheapest way of preventing the spread through cough and sneezing.

For over two weeks now, the enforcement of the COVID-19 guidelines in Cross River State has been epileptic as the Task Force were nowhere near their duty post. But same day the NCDC situation report was updated, the Cross River State Task Force appeared without the usual public announcement. Though, no announcement was done before the enforcement team left their duty post.

University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) Independent Study and Chasing Of Patients Relatives at the Isolation Center

No fewer than 17 staff and patients of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) who were randomly selected for a rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19 tested positive.

The figure represents about 26 percent of the entire test population, the study says. This suggests possible community transmission as it translates to slightly more than one in four persons tested.

In a recent development, the CMD of UCTH, Ikpeme Ikpeme chased out family members of patients from the isolation center in his facility.

CrossRiverWatch discreetly monitored the event from afar after reporters was turned away at the entrance.

The CMD in a text with CrossRiverWatch confirmed the incident saying “no patient was chased out please. I was personally present. Patients’ relatives should not go within the admission areas and so they were asked to leave the vicinity. We have to work to reduce the risk of hospital/community transmission.”

When this reporter approached from a safe distance, those asked to leave the isolation center declined comments. They denied they were even in the isolation center.

The Health Commissioner, Dr. Betta Edu also declined comments when contacted. But, sources in the Ministry said there seemed to be tension between the Ministry, UCTH and the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in the State.

Withdrawal of Services

The Chairman of NMA in the State, Dr. Agam Ayuk on Hit 95.9 FM topical radio program “The Dialogue With Agba Jalingo” which airs every Sunday 6pm-7pm where he was a guest alongside Dr. Betta Edu, the State Commissioner for Health and Chairman Cross River COVID-19 Task Force, Gabriel Adim, Coordinator of Coalition of CSO’s against COVID-19 and Dr. Laz Eze, a Public Health Expert, Chief Executive of TalkHealth9ja and Convener, #MakeOurHospitalWork Campaign reiterated their stand in withdrawing all services and declaring Dr. Betta Edu persona non grata.

His words: “The reality is that COVID-19 has been with us and we raised alarm weeks back and unfortunately politics was more important to those who are in authority than science. What was lacking in the State is testing and that was suppressed, was compromised and we have evidence for that but unfortunately, the NCDC reacted even though lately and gave the UCTH independent test status which led to testing of five samples in respect to the NCDC accredited molecular laboratory in Abakiliki and they all came out positive, unfortunately two doctors were part of it.

“COVID-19 has been with us but we have denied it and what we are having now is both hospital and community transmission that is ongoing. That result was ready as far back as June first, samples were sent on June 29th and result arrived on July 1 and was transmitted to the hospital and of course the result was forwarded to the State Commissioner for Health and Chairman COVID-19 Task Force and also His Excellency (the Governor). We are wondering why UCTH will be given independent test status and we still have to get epidemiologist number from the State Epidemiologist and the State Commissioner for Health who have not shown commitment and sincerity in the process of testing COVID-19 in the State and that is why as I speak with you NMA had a meeting and we are declaring withdrawal of services until that result is reflected on the NCDC platform.

“We are thinking that it is more of politics than public health of Cross Riverians. When you have a result that will have enormous impact on how people behave knowing fully well it has not become a confirmed issue that has been publicized by the NCDC; politics has now set in. That is why we are demanding that NCDC should do the appropriate thing, results have been confirmed and sent out from the labs and is now left for NCDC to update it and if they don’t update it, withdrawal of our services will continue and of course we have the five cases that have been transmitted to Commissioner for Health, as we speak there is no evidence of contact tracing, as we speak no evidence of isolation; the people are there with their families and are transmitting the disease and nothing has been done and don’t have evidence of something that has been done. The Adiabo isolation center remains closed and has not been activated.” He said.

In her response, Dr. Betta Edu accused NMA Cross River State Chapter of incessant striking in the State, adding that, she doesn’t deal with sentiments, emotions and individualistic tendencies as it has been made personal issue by the Association. She promised that people (NMA) will be held accountable for deaths out of negligence.

“It is unfortunate that it has become a very personal issue been propagated by some individual within the Nigerian Medical Association, Cross River Chapter. It has become unprofessional and it now become the issue of every minute you go on strike. Already for the COVID-19 pandemic NMA had either down tools or threatened to down tools more than three times, so, for Cross Riverians, it is no longer news that people will be held accountable for deaths out of negligence.

“There is a problem when the people refuse to go out to find out what the truth is and stay in their side lows and make assumptions and then take whatever decisions they want to take; we have clear evidence of contact tracing by our contact tracer; we have clear evidence by our surveillance team who move around where they stay. Those kind of things don’t bother us because, for me I want to be very technical and direct, I want to show evidence of what have been done and I don’t want to deal with sentiments, emotions and individualistic tendencies; I don’t want to follow those things and i just want to concentrate and do what need to be done. I just feel that there is a lot of conspiracy than trying to hook wind the people here and there and trying to create public impression.” Betta alleged.

On his part, the Coordinator, Coalition of Civil Society Organizations Against COVID-19 in Cross River State, Comrade Adim Gabriel, said CSOs in the State are not carried along by the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Betta Edu alleging that several calls and letters have been placed to her with no answer adding that the live of Cross Riverians are in jeopardy. He called on disgruntled parties to dialogue and strike a balance as a divided house cannot stand.

Towing the path of CSOs, Dr. Laz Eze, a Public Health Expert, Chief Executive of Talk Health 9ja and Convener, #MakeOurHospitalWork Campaign, said both parties need to come to terms and work together, averring that the people know the truth no matter what both parties may say.

He opined that, it will be great if the Government and stakeholders sit on the round table to proffer solution instead of accusation upon counter accusations.

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