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NCDC Pledges More Support For States To Strengthen Health Security

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said it will continue to support states to strengthen their health security capacity in 2021.

The Director-General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, made the disclosure on Friday in Abuja in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

Ihekweazu noted that though the COVID-19 pandemic might have disrupted some plans, the agency had not relented in its effort to strengthen health security at the subnational level.

NAN reports that the plan to strengthen the capacity of the state was initiated at the meeting of the National Council for Health at Asaba in 2019 tagged “Strengthening States for Health Security”.

The NCDC had in December 2019 announced plans to focus on supporting states to strengthen their health security capacity in 2020.

“We intend to complete the deployment of Surveillance Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS) for case-based digital surveillance and Public Health Emergency Operations Centres in all the states.

“We will support states in establishing public health laboratories that will meet the basic diagnostic needs for each state.

“We will also support the strengthening of treatment centres so that every state in Nigeria will have a place to manage infectious disease cases.

“Our strategy will include strengthening the workforce for health security at the state level,“ Ihekweazu said.

He, however, pointed out that the NCDC had spent the most part of 2020 spearheading the public health response in the aftermath of the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.

He said that notwithstanding the pandemic the agency had deployed SORMAS for case-based digital surveillance across the country.

According to him, the agency began the deployment of SORMAS in 2017 following lessons from the response to the outbreak of Ebola and other infectious diseases.

“The main justification of SORMAS was to eliminate the delays that were experienced in reporting of disease outbreaks from health facilities to local government to states and then to NCDC. It was also introduced to improve the efficiency of data collation and analysis.

“By the end of 2019, SORMAS had been deployed partially in only 17 states of the federation. This meant that more than half of the states in Nigeria did not have a digital case-based surveillance system.

“However, as at Sept. 17, 2020, NCDC had deployed SORMAS in all states (capital) and the 774 LGAs.

“This meant that the surveillance officer in every LGA and state had a device provided by NCDC, with SORMAS application installed, and is trained to use this to report suspected and confirmed cases of infectious diseases.

“Throughout the year, NCDC reflected its commitment to providing accurate and complete data for infectious diseases through situation reports for diseases. The agency monitors and publishes a National Weekly Epidemiological Report,” he said.

Ihekweazu said the public health agency had also established state public health Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs).

“In April 2018, NCDC announced that it had begun the establishment of EOCs in states beginning with Zamfara State and by the end of 2019 it had reached 23 states.

“In 2020, NCDC continued the establishment of State EOCs but did not reach the target of establishing EOCs in every state. However, it has established public health EOCs in 28 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

“Of the remaining states, seven of them have polio EOCs.

“These public health EOCs have been at the core of Nigeria’s COVID-19 response, used as coordination hubs for public health response activities,” he said.

Ihekweazu said only Ogun and Jigawa had yet to have public health or polio EOCs.

“By the end of 2019, NCDC had established a Lassa fever laboratory network with five laboratories; yellow fever/measles/rubella network with seven laboratories; cholera/meningitis laboratory network with 17 laboratories, and a network for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) surveillance with 12 laboratories.

“Between February and October 2020, the agency supported every state in Nigeria to establish at least one public health laboratory for COVID-19 diagnosis. While this was a deviation from the initial goal, these laboratories could be supported to set up testing for other diseases which was the initial target set by the agency.

“One of the targets set by NCDC in 2019 was to ensure every state had a treatment centre for `the management of infectious diseases. At this time, the world did not envisage the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With the start of the COVID-19 every state in the country was required to identify at least one treatment centre for the management of COVID-19 cases. Some of these were temporary centres while some states like Ogun State established a standard infectious disease treatment centre,” he said.

The NCDC boss further said that in 2020 the agency established Infectious Disease Treatment Centres at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH), Federal Medical Centre, Keffi and Bingham University Teaching Hospital in Plateau.

He said the centres at Bingham and UATH also have molecular laboratories, bringing testing closer to Nigerians.

Ihekweazu expressed the NCDC commitment to support workforce development at the state level.

He said in 2019 the agency developed an Integrated Training for Surveillance Officers in the country (ITSON) but pointed out that the training has yet to kick off.

Notwithstanding the challenges, the NCDC boss said the agency had trained more than 40,000 health workers in 2020 on infection prevention and control, case management and surveillance for COVID-19.

He explained that the agency had also introduced an online IPC training for easy access to health workers.

Speaking on the agency’s operations, Ihekweazu said: “despite the difficulties in the last months while responding to a large outbreak, the agency has continued to support states both to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and also to build long term structures that would ensure health security at the state level.

“We are not where we want to be yet, but we keep pushing,” he said.

The NCDC boss said that while the agency continued to support states, it was critical that states invest in their health security as a priority.

“Even though the NCDC had achieved most of its targets for 2020, the agency needs to focus on building on the achievements to ensure that the country is well prepared to tackle any outbreak and pandemic,’’ he said. 

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