COVID-19: Lagos, FCT shut seven treatment centres

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The two cities most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – Lagos and Abuja – have begun shutting down isolation centres as Nigerians snub the medical facilities.

The Abuja National Hospital had discharged its last patient while the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, which attend to most severe cases, had about four patients as opposed to the average of 30 severe patients it used to have.

The Chief Medical Director, UATH, Prof Bishop Ekele, confirmed that indeed the rate of admission had dropped significantly, adding that only four patients remained at the isolation ward and they might soon be discharged.

Ekele said, “We thank God that things (cases) are beginning to drop. The doctors’ strike has no effect on our facility. Usually, it is those that need oxygen that are brought to us. We have just about four patients and hopefully they might soon be discharged.”

The spokesperson for the National Hospital, Dr Tayo Haastrup, said the last patient had been discharged last week.

“We have no more (coronavirus) patients in our isolation centre,” Haastrup said on Friday.

“However, we will not be closing it down because that is what we use for epidemics like Lassa fever. We still have the six rooms for such purposes,” he added.

The Chairman, Medical Sub-Committee of the COVID-19 Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee in Abuja, Dr Ejike Oji, said the drop in the infection rate was a positive development. He, however, said this was not time for complacency.

Oji recalled that late last year, there was a similar drop in the infection rate which caused people to throw caution to the wind. He said this attitude was what led to the second wave. He, therefore, warned that the fight against COVID-19 must be sustained.

“It is true that severe infections have dropped but this is not the time for complacency. If you recall when we witnessed a drop late last year, people threw caution to the wind. What we have learnt about COVID-19 is that the virus mutates. We saw how the second wave came. There could be a third wave if we are not careful.”

The Minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora said that the drop in the rate of infections showed that the strategies adopted by the government were working.

“It shows that our strategies are working. If the rate of infection is dropping, it shows we are doing something right,” the minister said.

The Lagos State Government has reportedly closed down its 554-bed isolation centres following the decline in COVID-19 cases in the state.

Reports said the need to seal the facilities was also spurred by the fact that Nigerians had opted for home treatment than present themselves at COVID-19 test centres.

This was said to have compelled the state government to recall the frontline workers in the affected facilities. While some were consequently decommissioned, some others were redeployed to various infectious disease wards at the Mainland Hospital in Yaba.

Except for the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba which is active, the remaining COVID-19 treatment venues, including the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Agidingbi, Onikan, Gbagada, Indo and Landmark isolation centres have been shut. The Indo Isolation Centre at Ajao Estate was the last centre to be closed on March 30.

The IDH isolation centre with a bed space of 284, arguably the biggest and most effective in the state, presently has five patients.

According to him, most of the over 70 volunteer frontline health workers recruited in January to manage patients with severe respiratory challenges are presently being decommissioned due to decline in cases.

The IDH, situated in the Mainland Hospital, is a purpose-built facility equipped with intensive care unit capability in response to any pandemic. It originally had 124-bed capacity but a new state-of-the-art ICU with 160-bed space was erected on the premises by the Coalition Against COVID-19, a private sector-led organisation established to assist the government in combating the disease.

A frontline caregiver in the facility confirmed the report, adding that there were more cases between January and early March before the recent decline.

The health worker said, “In January, there were over 100 patients in the CACOVID ward alone and there were other patients in other wards, so you can imagine the kind of stress we went through in managing the patients. Now, we juggle managing COVID-19 and HIV/TB patients in the last one month. We the frontline workers are also not spared in terms of fatalities. A caregiver was brought into IDH from Apapa General Hospital who did not survive it. Another one brought here in critical condition from Gbagada General Hospital also didn’t make it.

“Our job here is quite challenging. The only working equipment that the government provided for us are just gloves and face masks. Nothing else! What we are demanding is that now that COVID-19 cases have gone down the Lagos State should pay us our three-month remuneration and allow us to go.”

The physician lamented that as the number of cases continued to decline, with only five patients left at the facility, many health workers had been decommissioned without payment while some others were being redeployed to take care of tuberculosis and HIV patients on admission.

A senior CACOVID official who pleaded anonymity confirmed the suspension of operation in the isolation centres, noting that a handful of the flagship hospitals were still allowed to run a holding bay.

The official added, “Aside from IDH, all the isolation centres are closed, but hospitals such as Gbagada, LASUTH, LUTH and Federal Medical Centre at Ebute Metta still have their holding bays or COVID-19 wards as most people call it. These are for the treatment of people with unusual infectious disease and suspected cases of COVID-19.”

The CACOVID official also confirmed earlier reports that only five patients are still on admission in the IDH facility, adding, “It is true that we still have five patients on admission, but that doesn’t mean we don’t record fresh COVID-19 positive cases. Many patients are often requested to isolate themselves at home to save cost in terms of accommodation, treatment and feeding for all.

“From experience, we know some of them recover within five days of self-isolation, except those who have underlying illnesses.”

Asked if the ongoing vaccination had something to do with the drop in the number of cases, the official disclosed that it was unlikely, noting that although vaccination was a priority to the state, there were strong indications that the low incidence of COVID-19 meant that the state was gradually experiencing herd immunity.

The official decried the poor compliance with safety protocols, adding, “If I have to be honest with you, we have not been carrying out COVID-19 tests like before. How can you discover many positive cases when you are not testing enough people?”

The official also expressed reservations over the non-payment of IDH health workers’ three-month special allowances, describing it as unfair.

The CACOVID official added, “That was how they also messed up the payment of last year’s volunteer health workers. Many of them have reported the incident to us. We know the money is there but certain people have their eyes on it. They would always hide under paper works and office bureaucracy to avoid paying them. We are familiar with the rhetoric.”

Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotoso, confirmed the report that only one functional isolation centre was still active in the state.

He said, “If you look around, you will observe that all the isolation centres have been shut down. We have only one functional centre left in Lagos. That is the CACOVID facility in Yaba which has the capacity to accommodate 100 patients. But at the moment, only five COVID-19 patients are left in that facility.”

On the redeployment of frontline health workers to HIV/TB management wards, Omotoso said, “That is what the Mainland Hospital is meant for. It is called Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba. It was actually remodelled to accommodate COVID-19 patients after the outbreak of the virus.

“Now that COVID-19 is going, the hospital has to revert to its primary role. Therefore, if anybody is saying he or she is overwhelmed with work, the person is not being truthful, objective and fair.”

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