By Eric Ojo

In line with its mandate, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) COVID-19 Response team, has been proactively engaged in tackling the spate of community transmission, which was identified as a cause of the rising wave of new infections in the FCT.

The first three COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the FCT on the 20th of March 2020 after the first reported case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Nigeria on the 27th of February. From the first reported case in Lagos, the virus has aggressively gained more ground, resulting in a subsequent cluster of cases that further snowballed to the current phase of community transmission across the country.

The Acting Secretary, FCT Health and Human Service Secretariat (HHSS), Dr Mohammed Kawu said with a capital testing rate of 18,021 per million (1.8 per cent of the population), the FCT remains the only state to attain and surpass the COVID-19 testing target, set by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19. However, in FCT, the territory’s COVID-19 response team did not uncover the existence of community transmission until it started sample collection and testing in communities within the FCT. This discovery which to some extent changed the case definition of the virus has however catalysed the accelerated and evidence-based response by the team in combating the spread in the territory.

Expanding COVID-19 Responses in the FCT 

The immediate past Director of Public Health, FCT HHSS, Dr Josephine Okechukwu said the FCT’s COVID-19 response team, noticed traces of community transmission when it embarked on sensitisation and community testing in council areas within the FCT, adding that the team subsequently went ahead to do sample collection from most of the communities in Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC).

“We extended it to other area councils and from the onset, we noticed that there were some specific communities in AMAC that had a high number of COVID-19. Meanwhile, we never knew that such community transmission was going on. So, it now created a platform for us to sensitise many of the communities and create a lot of awareness in all the communities so that people will be aware of the presence of COVID-19 in FCT.”

She added “For the pilot, we tested five communities from each area council and we worked for five days in each of those communities to look at what the transmission level was, whether there was COVID-19 there, and surprisingly the finding was quite overwhelming and interesting. We found out that every community we did sample collection, had cases of COVID-19, beyond what we expected. So, there was an ongoing community transmission across the whole council areas.”

Dr. Okechukwu also recalled that at a point, the positive rate in Abaji Area Council, which is relatively smaller when compared to the other councils was the highest in FCT, adding that it shot above that of AMAC which had more than 4000 cases at the time. She further noted that out of about 356 cases tested, 50 cases came out positive in Abaji. “So, Abaji’s transmission was quite high, we are still testing, sensitising, and creating awareness in all the area councils and many of the communities,” she added.

Interventions to mitigate community transmission in the FCT

FCT’s Deputy Epidemiologist and Emergency Operations Center Manager, Dr. Teresa Ekaete Nwachukwu stated that the response team had to intensify its efforts at combating community transmission in other to checkmate the spread of the virus. 

“We recorded cases in Abaji, and we recorded cases everywhere. In the last two, three months we have been doing more community testing and facility testing. We go to the communities, raise awareness, and encourage them to conduct a test.”

Similarly, the Deputy Incident Manager for the FCT COVID-19 response, Dr Augustine Ajogwu noted that the resolve to fight the disease from the community culminated in the team’s intensified active case search, which resulted in the discovery of community transmission. “When we noticed there was massive community transmission, what we did was to decentralise our testing system because it is only when you test that you know whether somebody is positive or not. We decentralised our testing system in such a way that in all the six area councils in the FCT, there was a testing centre. Even though we were not able to decentralise it to all the communities, we ensured that all the six area councils had a testing centre where people could easily walk in and get tested. 

Dr. Ajogwu added that efforts were also in top gear in other strategic areas such as education, community mobilisation and sensitisation. “We also intensified community engagement and risk communication to reduce stigmatisation, appealed to people to test to know their status. That was when we started having people coming out to test. The decentralisation of the testing system helped us to increase the number of people tested which in turn increased the number of positive cases recorded.”

This narrative was done in November 2020 as part of the #COVID19NigeriaStories documentation project on state-level responses to COVID-19, implemented by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Ford Foundation.

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