Health and industry experts have stressed the need for federal coordination and establishment of more laboratories to mitigate the spread of Delta variant and a recurrence of testing complications that risk reversing the gains labs have made since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
While cases of the new variant has been recorded in some states, these experts fear that if not checked, some hospitals in hard-hit areas may reach capacity.
They lamented that while delays for results for some local and perculiar epidermics in the country are reaching nearly eight days for some, labs are beginning to restrict how many samples they’ll accept.
Recall that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had on July 8, 2021 , confirmed a case of SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant (lineage B.1.617.2.) in the country, stating that the variant was detected following the routine travel test required of all international travelers and genomic sequencing at the National Reference Laboratory in the FCT.
The Head, Research and Development, at the National lnstitute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) Professor Martins Emeje, told LEADERSHHIP Sunday that the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that newly detected Delta variant is more deadly than previous variants and transmits faster than.
He said, despite this awareness, Nigeria still needs to carry out detailed research to ascertain that fact.
On his part, the president, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, Prof. James Damen, stressed the need for the country to build capacity to address it’s present and peculiar epidemics and outbreak. He empahsised that only then, can the country effectively investigate and deal with trans-boundary diseases and outbreaks.
He urged government to give premium to laboratory strengthening, especially at the primary and secondary level of healthcare delivery.
Prof.Damen said, “As long as biotic and abiotic relationship amongst humans, animals and environment remains, disease outbreaks at national, regional and global levels will always arise and the best approach to dealing with the threat remains national and regional approaches based on peculiarities in climes, race medical laboratory infrastructure.”
According to the CDC, the Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, can spread more easily and that the strain has mutations on the spike protein that make it easier for it to infect human cells.
Public health experts and researchers have also said that the variant is about 50 per cent more contagious than the Alpha variant, (B.1.1.7) first identified in the United Kingdom and which was already 50 per cent more contagious than the original coronavirus that was first identified in China in 2019.
They expressed worry that the deadly variant may also be able to escape protection from vaccines and some COVID-19 treatments, eventhough it is not yet proven.
However, concerns by many Nigerians has been as to whether the AstraZeneca vaccine administered in the country is able to protect against the Delta variant.
Responding to this, , a renowned virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that according to studies in the United Kingdom, all vaccines including the AstraZeneca vaccine, are effective in preventing symptomatic disease in a majority of people with underlying health conditions as well as the rest of the population.
The virologist , however, harped on preventive measures to halt the spread of the virus in the country.
“Whether vaccinated or not, Nigerians should ensure they wear their facemasks, avoid overcrowded areas, embark on frequent hand washing and go for test when displaying COVID-19 symptoms,” he urged.
In the same vein, the executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib has said that the AstraZeneca vaccine can protect against the Delta variant.
Quoting a research from Public Health England, Shuaib noted that the virus is 92 per cent susceptible to Astrazeneca vaccine.
He said “Recent research from Public Health England (PHE) shows that the Indian (Delta) variant B.1.617.2 is 92 per cent susceptible to Oxford/Astrazeneca. It is therefore comforting to know that the vaccine used in Nigeria can protect against this variant that caused high morbidity and mortality in India. However, it underscores the need for us to ramp up our vaccination to more Nigerians.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), has said that there are ongoing studies to understand the impact of the variant on existing vaccines and therapeutics.
In Lagos State, as the state is beginning to see increasing activities at laboratories and many more people testing positive of the COVID-19 virus, the state commissioner for health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, said that the state is slightly going into a third wave.
Abayomi told LEADERSHIP Weekend that “We have been anticipating third wave because we are watching the global environment and Lagos being a metropolitan city, we have been receiving visitors on a daily basis all over the world.
“We are admitting more COVID-19 positive people than last month. We expect that in summer time, a lot of people will be coming back home, especially from Europe, where the Delta variant and other variants are circulating. Most people traveling into Nigeria, will come through Lagos. So we expect that there is going to be an increase in activities in Lagos.
“About a week ago, we were diagnosing 30 new COVID-19 cases per day, it went up to 60 cases, then 80 and now slightly above 100 new cases and it has remained like that for the past four days,” he added.
On the measures put in place by the state government to curb the spread of the virus, Abayomi said, “We are ensuring that everybody coming in is going into home isolation and ensure they do testing. So we have found that majority of them are positive and we have been able to isolate them in their hotel rooms or at their homes. That has helped us to stop the virus from spreading.
“We have also deployed aggressive strategies in efforts to stop the delta variants before it has the chance of establishing itself in Lagos. No doubt, we will soon start recording some cases, but we have put in place measures to flatten the curve as fast as possible,” said Abayomi.
He said the state has observed that the new cases are those who have not been vaccinated against the virus, while urging Nigerians to ensure they get vaccinated.
He noted that the vaccine may not stop one from catching the virus, but it will protect him/her from being hospitalised due to the virus.