#COVID19: Lab Scientists Decry ‘Gross Underreporting’ Of Cases In Cross River

In Breaking News, Health, International News, Reports

By Jonathan Ugbal

The chronicles of the SARS – CoV-2 in Cross River remains one of discordant tones as the state’s chapter of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) has written the Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) decrying what it perceives to be sharp practices.

The association said while the two testing centers in the state have been carrying out tests, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to underreport the number of cases from the Lawrence Henshaw Memorial Hospital (LHMH) which has received more client turnover than the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH).

“To our knowledge, the LHMH site commenced specimen collection and testing on 6th July, 2020, and has so far received more patronage in terms of client turnover compared to the UCTH centre which started on July 10, 2020. However, while the initial four samples tested at the UCTH site were all positive, and the data was immediately logged onto the national Covid-19 pandemic data bank, as shown by the NCDC post of 13th July, 2020, similar results of samples tested at the LHMH were yet to be released, more than a week after. On Tuesday, 14th July, the NCDC posted one new positive case for Cross River State, thus bringing the total number of officially confirmed and reported cases to 10 in the State. Since the UCTH testing Centre did not conduct any test after the last batch of samples tested on July 10, 2020, it could be deduced that the one case reported for Cross River State by NCDC on 14th July, emanated from the LHMH site,” the letter read.

In the letter dated July 22, 2020 and titled: “COVID-19 Virus (SARS-COV2) Testing In Cross River State: Request For Investigation Of Underreporting Of Positive Cases,” and signed by its Chairman, Ndem Benedict and Secretary, Dennis Ekpo; the AMLSN said that at least 50 samples were taken between the 6th and 8th of July at the LHMH but were not logged on the NCDC dashboard probably due to the high number of positive cases thus prompting the state to shut down the testing facility for some time.

The letter from AMLSN

The AMLSN said: “From the information gathered by our surveillance team, we can report that about 53 samples were collected and tested at the LHMH centre between 6th and 8th July, 2020, with quite a number of positive cases recorded. The scary number of positive results recorded may have prompted the State Government to issue a directive, stopping the collection of samples for testing on Thursday, 9th and Friday 10th July, 2020, perhaps pending subsequent reorganization and evacuation of all documents relating to test results by the State Epidemiology unit. It was therefore surprising when the NCDC reported only one new case on 14th July, 2020.”

Checks by CrossRiverWatch on the NCDC’s situation reports showed data consistent with the position of the AMLSN.

The Ministry of Health had announced that testing will commence at the LHMH from July 5, 2020. But, no information was given whether that happened or not.

However, the state would share fliers saying results could be gotten in 45 minutes. Days later rumors were rife that testing had stopped which forced the management of LHMH to issue a statement.

One of the promotional fliers encouraging people to go and test at the LHMH (Credit: CRSMOH)

“The attention of the Management of Dr. Lawrence Henshaw Memorial Hospital Reference Laboratory has been drawn to the propaganda being circulated by malevolent individuals bent on distracting the COVID-19 Response in Cross River State,” read the statement signed by Dr. Obeten Sunday, the Laboratory Manager of the LHMH reference laboratory.

“Members of the public are hereby advised to disregard such baseless information as walk-in and Drive-in sample collection holds Mondays to Fridays from 9am -2pm with exceptions of emergency that could be handled outside these working hours,” the statement, issued on July 10th read.

The statement from the DLHMH

However, the AMLSN which accused the state epidemiological unit and the health commissioner of manipulating the test data, called on the NCDC and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to carry out a forensic audit of the test data presented by the state.

“In our view, such data represents gross underreporting, misinformation and deliberate distortion of facts, which may not only lead to inappropriate response but portends serious health crisis for the inhabitants of the State. We are deeply concerned that such dangerous manipulations are bound to hamper appropriate management of Covid-19 cases, contact tracing and testing, and planning which are all required for curbing further spread of the virus. More so, it is regrettable to know that this tragic trend of underreporting of positive cases from LHMH site has continued into the second week of testing in the State.

“From the foregoing, it is obvious that the State Epidemiology Unit, in connivance with the Commissioner of Health, who doubles as the chairman of the State’s COVID-19 task force, intend to perpetrate the culture of deception hitherto nurtured during the pre-testing era in the State, as evident in the huge disparity between the number of samples collected and the actual number of tests conducted in the State. If this unethical misrepresentation of facts is allowed to continue unabated, Cross River and by extension the entire country in the nearest future may be heading towards one of the worst health crisis witnessed anywhere during this pandemic.

“We are therefore requesting the NCDC and Presidential Task Force to perform a forensic audit of test results at the LHMH testing Centre, to ascertain the level of compromise and/or distortion. After all, records and documents can be mutilated or altered but the hard disc drive of the GeneExpert system will give a true picture of results generated at the LHMH Centre,” the AMLSN wrote.

As at press time, Cross River officially has reported 40 positive cases of which 28 are active and only the four bed isolation center at the UCTH is functional and treating patients.

It would be recalled that CrossRiverWatch had last week reported differences in the data presented by the NCDC and the state’s Public Health Emergency Operations Center.

A quick check on the website of the CRSPHEOC displayed an error message suggesting the microsite has been unpublished.

But, the data on the site of the ministry of health shows that the state has recorded 40 cases of which 3 deaths have been announced and 9 discharged. This information corresponds with the NCDC situation report of July 26, 2020.

Further checks show that the state delayed at least 48 hours after the discharges and deaths occurred before uploading them on the NCDC dashboard.

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