Special Report by : CHUKWUBUIKE MADU

Reports from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, in the last one month indicate that there has been steady rise in cases of Coronavirus disease in Enugu State. Despite this revelation, some residents of the state seem not to believe that the disease exists, let alone the astronomical rise in the area.

As at the time of this report, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, had confirmed that Enugu State had recorded over seven hundred cases of the Corona virus disease. Of this number, over three hundred and seventy had been discharged while seventeen had died.

Radio Nigeria visited Isolation Centres in Enugu and highlights the situation at the UNTH COVID-19 Isolation and Treatment facility, which is already filled up with patients down with severe cases of the virus. A senior Registrar in the Infectious Disease Department and volunteer for the treatment of COVID-19 at the centre, Dr. Juliet Merem gave Radio Nigeria insight into the running of the twenty-bedded capacity facility.

Sometimes, we receive patients from outside directly and sometimes we receive them when they come to the facility. The Isolation Centre runs two facilities: the treatment area and the holding area.

So based on suspicion, we take patients to a 5 bedded holding area. Patients are kept on their own for a short period within which we take samples for screening for COVID-19 and upon testing positive; we transfer them to an 11 bedded treatment zone.

Then, we also have an adjunct room, which is Infectious Disease room that was already pre-existing before the issue of COVID-19 came into place. So in all, we have a 20 bedded space capacity where we can effectively isolate and treat patients.   –  Dr. Merem narrated.

Meanwhile, the Head, Clinical Team for COVID-19 and Coordinator of the Isolation Centre, Dr. Uche Unigwe pointed out that the facility was already filled up. He explained that about one hundred cases had been treated at the facility, noting that most of them were severe cases, which remained the focus of the centre.

Many of the very severe patients come to UNTH and we have admitted and managed about 62 severe cases and some patients consume 10-12 cylinders of oxygen. That is definitely much more than that of the state treatment centre (Parklane) that has a limited capacity of six rooms has been able to manage.

We have many we manage at home as outpatients because the centre will not be able to accommodate them, it’s over stretched,   according to Dr. Unigwe.

The Chief Medical Director, CMD, UNTH, Dr. Obinna Onodugo, said the hospital management was already putting in efforts to expand the COVID-19 Isolation facility to accommodate more patients.

We have already collapsed an Oncology ward that is a little bit separated from the other wards. So we are going to begin reconstruction of that place so that we can transform it to an isolation facility that can hold about 25 or 26 patients. Inside that one, we are going to have a special ICU for COVID patients, even a labour ward,  the CMD stated.

Dr. Onodugo further noted that efforts were on to increase testing facility in the state, assuring the people of the correctness of the test results.

 “The testing capacity now in the state is poor.  We are using a Gene Expert machine; we might end up testing between 25 and 30 patients, sometimes less daily. Luckily, we have started doing some expansion of the testing. Some days ago, we got a PCR machine that they just finish installing and another one is coming to complement this effort. I am certain that with the new machines, the service will be more robust. We can be testing in hundreds.

“And when the machine tests positive, it is almost one hundred percent accurate because we are testing for the genes that are particular for this Coronavirus. So it becomes difficult to question any positive result,” Dr. Onodugo pointed out.

However, it is not all good as doctors at the Isolation Centre complain of poor funding and attention by the Enugu State Government. One of them is Dr. Chikezie Ogbolog, who is a volunteer from the Family Medicine Department, UNTH.

“The arrangement by the federal and state governments is that the state governments should be completely in-charge of COVID-19 management in their state even if a Federal Teaching Hospital or Federal Medical Centre has patients.

“But it may surprise you to note that in University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Isolation Centre, patients buy their drugs, they buy the food they eat, they literarily buy everything they need.

“Apart from that, we don’t have a dialysis machine for those COVID-19 patients that come down with renal failures. We also need ventilators because most of them go into respiratory compromise.

“As at date, no amount of support, money, stipend has been given to the volunteer doctors by the (Enugu) state government,” Dr. Ogbologu cried out.

The Coordinator of the Isolation Centre and Infectious Disease Consultant, Dr. Ucge Unigwe also expressed worry about seeming neglect of the patients at the Isolation facility by the Enugu State Government.

“We are taking most of the burden of the severe cases, so the need for the state government to fully recognize us as a treatment centre, not just on paper but ensuring that our patients enjoy all the benefits as others in keeping with the policy of the Federal Government that treatment will be free.

I understand that the Enugu State Government is doing so in three other centres of theirs. The government should ensure adequate remuneration of the frontline health workers in UNTH. This becomes a burning issue that has been discussed with the state Commissioner for Health,” Dr. Unigwe lamented.

Dr. Unigwe appealed to the Enugu State Government to pay the volunteer personnel at the UNTH COVID-19 Isolation Centre the stipends, which were paid their colleagues in other Isolation facilities to encourage them in the discharge of their duties, pointing out that the morale of the workers was low.

Efforts to get the Reaction of the Enugu State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Ike Obi, on the issues were unsuccessful as he neither responded to a text message or phone calls put across to him.