There has been panic among medical workers at the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Edo State, after two doctors tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday, Sunday PUNCH can report.
It was gathered that the two affected doctors worked at the facility’s Pathology and Obstetrics and Gynecology departments.
A senior medical officer at the hospital, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said the two doctors were currently in isolation in their different homes.
The source said the doctors became infected after attending to two patients without protective gear and unknown to them that the patients were carriers of the virus.
ISTH is a World Health Organisation-recognised centre for Lassa fever research and treatment in Africa.
According to the source, the doctors began to exhibit the commonly known symptoms of COVlD-19 after attending to the patients. The tests ran on them however came out positive.
This came as the number of cases in the country rose to 214 on Saturday with five new cases recorded in Bauchi and the Federal Capital Territory.
Bauchi had three while the FCT had two. The number of deaths has risen to four while 25 persons have so far been discharged in Edo and Ekiti states.
Overall, Lagos State, with the highest in the country, has 109 cases; Osun (20 cases); Oyo (nine); Akwa Ibom (five); Ogun (four); Edo (seven); Kaduna (four); Bauchi (six); Enugu (two); Ekiti (two); Rivers (one); Benue (one) and Ondo (one), which was confirmed on Friday evening, and the Federal Capital Territory with 43 cases. As of Saturday night, however, the number of cases across the world had risen to 1,196,049 cases, out of which 246,110 had recovered and 64,542 had died.
Meanwhile, the source said, “The tests were well done. lrrua, as you know, has been at the forefront of combating Lassa fever and is equipped. Sadly, the tests were positive. The victims are resident doctors in their mid-thirties. One of the doctors met with one of the patients 10 days after returning from Lagos where he went to put finishing touches to overseas travel plans.
“We don’t have personal protective equipment; no enough face masks, hand sanitisers and hand gloves. The doctors were doing their normal work. The centre where the two doctors worked was involved in the treatment of coronavirus at lrrua. The two patients infected two doctors in two separate departments in the facility.
“What is clear now to everybody is that the two affected doctors didn’t know that the patients they were talking to and examining were carrying the virus. Most people with the virus were usually asymptomatic at the beginning. There was no prior knowledge of the medical condition of the two patients.
“These two unknown patients must have mixed with others maybe while awaiting consultation and all that. The required social distancing was not enforced. The two doctors went home and probably met with their family members and other patients in their private practice. You see the pattern of spread. It took a while before the situation came to the limelight.
“We usually leave this kind of crisis in the hands of physicians because they are the ones who manage internal medicine and immune status of patients. If it’s mostly respiratory system disease, that is also within their purview.
“It’s only when complications occur and we are not talking about intensive care unit, incubating and putting patients on ventilators that you require the input of an episiologist and intensivist. And at that point, it becomes a multidisciplinary kind of treatment.”
Also, a nurse at the hospital told Sunday PUNCH that though the CMD wasn’t around when the news broke, he had been informed of the development.
The nurse added, “The system doesn’t provide for the safety of doctors and the hazard allowance for an average doctor in Nigeria is N5,000 monthly.”
The nurse said there were fears at the hospital as many nurses had been filing for their annual leave to stay away from the facility. The source added, “Many people have applied for their annual leave but I wouldn’t know if they have been approved. I can’t risk my life working in a facility where there is no PPE. Even a consultant has shut down his outpatient clinic for lack of PPE at the hospital.”
On Friday, President, National Association of Resident Doctors, Dr Aliyu Sokomba, said a doctor at the teaching hospital had tested positive for the coronavirus. He spoke during a live programme in Benin City.
Meanwhile, other reliable sources at the ISTH said there had been panic at the centre since the outbreak of the virus in the state. An official told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity that nurses were rushing to proceed on their annual leave to avoid the virus.
The official noted that helicopters had been flying in blood samples from various cities for screening at the hospital. The isolation centre for coronavirus patients in the hospital is a building still under construction.
Also, a medical doctor noted that they preferred those who tested positive to stay in isolation in their homes.
Most of the offices visited in the hospital were near empty in compliance with government’s stay at home directive to level one to twelve workers.
Although there was no patient in the isolation centre at the ISTH but a source said there were cases of COVID-19 in the hospital but that the management was trying to manage the information so as not to cause panic.
The source said, “You know if they announce the numbers, there will be panic, even health workers will start running away. Already many have started applying for their annual leave. As I’m talking, we don’t have hand sanitisers. Thank God for the rain that gives water. We don’t have our protective gadgets too, they are in short supply.
“There was a case of a lady from Ondo State who came to visit her boyfriend in Ekpoma. She was admitted for pneumonia. After two or three days, we noticed that the symptoms the girl was exhibiting were not for ordinary pneumonia. We had to take her blood sample and at the end of the test she came out positive. It is possible that the majority of the patients in that ward were infected and the people she had contact with could also have been infected and there was no contact tracing.”
Our source further stated that all the cases of COVID-19 were being handled by the Lassa fever unit because they had not created a unit or isolation place for them.
“Yes, there have been cases but as a worker here we cannot say it out because they will say one is going against the ethics. So it is what they give to the media that will be reported,” the source added.
On why the doctors and nurses were scared, our source said they had genuine reasons because they were also afraid for their safety.
The source said, “Take for example, when I came to work today, the face mask was scarce and no hand sanitiser and the face mask is key. I can do without hand sanitiser.
“For washing of hands, I can use methylated spirits and I can use morning fresh but the face mask, when you go close to a patient to take the body temperature or blood pressure, they will breathe directly on your face.
“You cannot take your face away because you are attending to a patient. Also, you need to have face-to-face contact with them and because I don’t have the face mask I have to isolate myself. That is the truth.”
The source said what many of them were doing now in many of the hospitals around was to improvise the face mask by using toilet paper.
Another source in the hospital said there were palpable fears because the hospital could not continue to keep the COVID-19 patients with Lassa fever patients.
“That will only complicate issues,” the source said. “I saw the second-in-command to the CMD going round the uncompleted building yesterday, trying to see what they could do because of the danger involved in keeping them with Lassa fever patients.
“I hope the government will send some of the billions of naira they said they are spending on this coronavirus to us to complete the building.
“The United States has mopped up all the ventilators and so you can hardly find ventilators to buy at this time. Let all our senators go and enjoy their abandoned constituency projects now. I think this is good for us anyway, maybe we will learn our lesson.”