Nigeria should begin pool testing for COVID’19

A molecular neuroscientist, Dr. Peter Imoesi, has urged Nigeria to adopt a two-way testing strategy for COVID-19 in order to expand the nation’s testing capacity.

Speaking on a live TV interview on Wednesday, Imoesi, a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom, said Nigeria should be doing pool testing, using the Real-Time Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction, aside the individual testing because of the nation’s huge population.

“We need to adopt a two-way strategy whereby a certain group of people will be given individual testing, while a certain group of people will be offered pool testing.

“My proposal is that, in areas that you call epicentres, you could have individual testing; while in areas where the virus is not so prominent, you could go for pool testing.

“I was initially an advocate of individual testing as we currently have in Nigeria.

“But, I later did a thorough examination of our population and the rate at which we test at the moment. I then propose that we can go for pool testing.

“Pool testing basically means that you have a number of samples and you combine those samples into one and then run analysis on it.

“It is only when this sample tests positive that you now go back to do individual testing of the samples.

“However, if it tests negative, you can say all the samples are negative.

“The NCDC may argue that what about asymptomatic individuals with low to moderate viral load?

“Again, science anywhere in the world has provided for the optimisation of testing protocol.

“So, what we need to do in that case is careful optimisation of the protocol to ensure the virus is present at all times.

“The RTQPCR machine is 95 percent sensitive. So, even when you have virus level that is as low as 0.00 1 milligram per ml, the machine will still detect it successfully,” he said.

The scientific basis for the pool testing, Imoesi said, is already published in the Lancet journal and other journals, adding that the pool testing will enable Nigeria to move at a move faster rate with testing for COVID-19.

“Pool testing is not a taboo in science. It is used to screen blood samples when it comes to HIV and blood donor and also for syphilis,” he said.

Dr. Imoesi stated that he would not recommend the use of the rapid test kits to expand testing because it is not reliable.

“I think the standard is still the RTQPCR. The rapid test kits are not so reliable for now,” he said.

He also disclosed that some countries are already using the pool testing to enable them test more people.

“If you look at our sister country like Ghana, they are into pool testing.

“For instance, Ghana has just about 29 deaths from COVID-19. The country’s population is about 30 million people. So, if pool testing actually not good enough, then Ghana should be reporting more deaths compared to what we have in Nigeria.

“So, if we look at the population that we have and the fact that the NCDC said we are already having community infection, it means the contact tracing will not be effective enough to track the disease.

“So if we really want to open up the country, we need to adopt a two-way strategy of individual and pool testing,” he said.

Imoesi also fault the accuracy of Nigeria’s testing capacity as relayed by the NCDC.

He said: “About five weeks ago. We were told that we are able to conduct 2,500 test per day.

“From my calculation, from the 9th of May till this very moment, we’ve barely done 1,000 plus tests

“If you divide that by 26 laboratories in the country, basically each laboratory is doing a total number of 46 samples or test per day.

“Basically, it is either we are low on personnel skilled to do this test or I don’t know what is really going on,” he said.

Oyinkansola Adedamola

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