Why NCDC’s Statistics Should Raise Concerns About Nigeria’s Status

By Uche Amunike

Ever since the Covid 19 pandemic broke out in March 2020, Nigerians have depended largely on the statistics presented by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, (NCDC) in order to monitor the rate of infected, treated, discharged or dead victims of the dreaded virus.

These statistics are supposed to be a guide for us to know if we’re fighting the scourge successfully or not. However, much as these statistics are used as a yardstick to check the dearth of this global pandemic, there are other salient factors that should be put into consideration before concluding that the figures doled out by the NCDC are rightly classified as accurate reports of the Nigerian situation.

Part of these factors include the fact that most states do not have testing facilities or sample collection centres that can carry out these tests and send results to the NCDC for proper updates of their facilities; remote, but heavily populated areas that can’t boast of healthcare because of lack of good roads to get to them for tests.

Such people are not keyed into the frame of things at this period which makes it unrealistic for the NCDC to give a clear cut statistical report of such areas. In today’s edition, my very good friend and senior colleague, Ikeddy Isiguzo writes passionately about what can be described as loopholes of the NCDC in the Nigerian situation, this pandemic period. Please enjoy…

THE daily statistics the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, releases, in line with practices else where, say nothing about the stage of the combat against the Corona Virus pandemic. They say nothing very useful to the condition of Nigerians.

At most, they are confusing complications that admit that NCDC is fixated with figures that underline the weaknesses of its operations. These weaknesses have been there, the pandemic merely broadened the picture.

NCDC does not have the capacities to combat a sweeping pandemic with the speed of the Corona Virus. It has, additionally, failed to admit these weaknesses in manners that can attract the assistance it direly needs – not just money and materials.

The absence of testing facilities in most States, not just sample collection centres that send their collections to Abuja, or wherever test laboratories can be found, has limited the accuracy of figures NCDC parades. The number of Nigerians with access to tests, even the sample collection centres, is limited.

We tend to see Nigeria as a small-sized place with its most distant parts accessible in hours. There are parts of Nigeria that remain inaccessible. Please discountenance the fact that they vote and statistics indicate that they are part of our great country. Travels within some local government areas, burdened by natural features like creeks, deserts, mountains, valleys, or erosions, are almost impossible. Are these parts excluded from being saved from the Corona Virus?

How can we have a fair idea of how many bear the virus when access to tests are retricted?
NCDC cannot keep track of the infected that way.
Where can people in our 774 local government areas walk in for tests or for their samples to be taken? If random tests are taken in our villages, hamlets, even markets, the numbers could be startling.

High number of people die in different parts of Nigeria. There is hardly any investigation of the cause of their deaths. We quickly bury the truth with their corpses, all these amid a pandemic that kills in such ways.

Governments and philanthropists are throwing billions of Naira at the challenge without improvements in access to testing, availability of testing kits, and health education to protect the populace.

Statistics are important. They are so important that they can be used to tell any story, depending on the audience. How are we using the NCDC statistics in this instance?
Darrell Huff’s 1954 book, How To Lie With Statistics, lucidly shows uses and abuses of statistics. The 66-year-old book is still a tenable document that warns against fixations with statistics. They are useful, they can be useless, they can be dangerous. Huff was a journalist, not a statistician. His book was about flaws in generation of statistics and further abuses in their interpretations.

Would NCDC say that its statistics represent Nigeria’s Corona Virus status? Has it made analyses of the spread of the locations from which the statistics were collected? How many States were involved? What is the ratio of those tested to the general population?
On its part, the Federal Government is gloating over the successes of NCDC, ignoring alternative measures that could be better succour to majority of Nigerians, and looking away from the corruption of security agencies that has aided spread of the virus across Nigeria.

Government imposed lockdowns to contain movements which facilitate spread of the virus. The security agents simply set up toll gates. Whoever pays is free to go anywhere. Have these movements been recognised as factors in the spread of the virus? Has any security agent been punished for assisting people to travel, some ferrying corpses with unknown cause of death?

The statistics NCDC parades are of the number of people who succeeded in passing through the eye-of-a-needle processes that lead to inclusion in NCDC statistics. It is a challenge that cannot be resolved without a determination to make testing accessible to more people as a virus carrier may not manifest any symptoms.

Lockdowns are meant to be opportunities for more tests to be conducted, restrict movements, and spread of the illness and gauge the impact on the figures. We have done none of these.
The more tests we conduct, the higher and more figures would be available to NCDC for a better appraisal of the spread of the virus. Yet we have done a little over 5,000 tests, from NCDC figures, in a population of over 200 million, among which are millions who do not behave in any way to suggest there is a pandemic.

Dangers lie in not knowing what is killing Nigerians. The strident denials that it is not the Corona Virus, when we do not know what it is, compound the challenge. We have not managed a grip on the virus since last March when the index case was announced.

Expected improvements have not been made on where we were in March. Episodic measures are incapable of managing the epidemic. It seems we have settled into a routine of daily briefings as solutions to the intimidating challenges before Nigeria.

Nigeria runs a risk of being left behind when the world is done with the Corona Virus. Inaccurate reporting of the infection rates, based on low testing capacities, are not useful for decisions on Nigeria. Only societies that have cured their populace of the virus and maintain safety standards that stem from public awareness and provision of testing facilities would step into normalcy.

A lift of bans on air travels would worsen the woes of unprotected territories like ours. It is therefore imperative that our governments act with decisiveness that removes management of the pandemic status from its current use as a photo opportunity.

Nigerians should mull what would happen as normalcy returns in other parts of the world. If we have fared so poorly with the attention of our leaders, what would happen when the world opens its doors and our leaders re-gain their travel urges? Who would look after the rest of us?
There should be more aggressive testing in the days ahead. Lockdowns without tests and safety practices would produce impressive statistics that would conceal where Nigeria is with the pandemic.

Lockdowns are meant to be opportunities for more tests to be conducted, restrict movements, and spread of the illness and gauge the impact on the figures. We have done none of these.
The more tests we conduct, the higher and more figures would be available to NCDC for a better appraisal of the spread of the virus. Yet we have done a little over 5,000 tests, from NCDC figures, in a population of over 200 million, among which are millions who do not behave in any way to suggest there is a pandemic.

Dangers lie in not knowing what is killing Nigerians. The strident denials that it is not the Corona Virus, when we do not know what it is, compound the challenge. We have not managed a grip on the virus since last March when the index case was announced.

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