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Has COVID-19 triggered community transmission in Kano?

Photo Credit: Pulse Nigeria 5 mins read

A Twitter user tweeted that there’s community transmission of COVID-19 in Kano.

While the tweet claimed that community transmission of COVID-19 was the sole cause of the recorded deaths in Kano, available evidence did not support her claim.

Full Text

On the 22nd of April, a Twitter user, Zainab Mahmoud, said in her tweet that there’s community transmission of COVID-19 in Kano. She further advised residents of the state to protect the elders.

Mysterious Deaths in Kano

For the past few weeks, there has been news of mysterious deaths in Kano. These casualties resulted in many linking these deaths to the deadly disease, COVID-19. The pandemic, at the time of this report, has claimed no fewer than 263,658 people across the globe. While this was going on, Daily Trust reported on April 21 that 150 people died of strange ailment in 3 days in Kano. Further, a video posted the burial of 200 people in one cemetery on April 22. However, NCDC refuted this claim in a fact-check, as well as other figures in circulation on Twitter.

Government Interventions

While the Kano State Ministry of Health attested to the investigation of what looks like an unusual number of deaths in Kano; the Secretary, Risk Communication Sub Committee on COVID-19 in Kano State, Alhaji Auwalu Abdu Fagge, denied the rumour of mass deaths in Kano metropolis.

More recently, the Kano state government again sought to refute reports that the deaths were related to COVID-19. It said a preliminary result of the investigation conducted revealed that these casualties result from unique complications including hypertension, diabetes, meningitis and acute malaria, even as he said investigations were still on-going.

Kano’s COVID-19 Status

Kano’s COVID-19 Status has attracted particular concerns among Nigerians as reports of mysterious deaths in the state became linked to coronavirus 19. As it stands, Kano now ranks 2nd on the list of states with confirmed cases, with about 547 cases of a national sum of 3912. However, on 5th of May, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, told the  House of Representatives that there is no evidence yet that COVID-19 caused the “mysterious deaths” in Kano State.

Verification

The Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, made it known that, so far, there has been nothing to suggest that the deaths in the state were related to the pandemic. To be sure, while reports of mysterious deaths in Kano grew, residents were battling several other health challenges in the state

While no credible platform had published or confirmed the inferences in the original claim, records from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control – NCDC -indicated only 18 deaths out of the  547 confirmed cases in the state.

In addition to this, Dubawa sought expert opinion on the likely cause of the deaths. Professor Isa Sodiq Abubakar – Director, Centre for Infectious Diseases Research, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH) /Bayero University (BUK)- said the mysterious death could be a result of multiple factors, which included: fear and panic; chronic diseases; government prioritisation of medical resources to the care of COVID-19 over other ailments and the general absence of laboratories to administer and analyse tests. 

Professor Abubakar explained it thus: 

“The deaths in Kano could have been from multiple factors, one of which may be those who have chronic illnesses – chronic Kidney/liver diseases, sickle cell diseases, complicated diabetes, hypertension complications, chronic heart diseases and cancers.
These are a group of people who need a stable health service for their health problems to be adequately taken care of, but the situation we have found ourselves is such that COVID-19 has destabilized the health centres. So, normal services are not happening for several reasons. Resources have been diverted to the care of COVID-19.” 

Professor Abubakar also suggested that the sense of fear among citizens and health workers were crucial but neglected considerations in the peaking deaths recorded in the state, as people became wary of visiting hospitals for the risk of contracting the virus.

“People who are suffering from such conditions are at a disadvantage and are suffering a lot. Definitely, some of them are dying as a result of the lack of optimum care which they need very badly. Some of them are not turning to the health facilities themselves, for fear of contracting COVID-19 because there are a lot of stories that most hospitals now have COVID-19 patients on admission, some on outpatients basis. So some are afraid of coming and definitely, their health problems are likely to deteriorate. Because normal activities are not happening, they are unable to make money to take care of their health problems or health problems of their families. Since they rely on daily sales or trading or businesses to generate the money, they use to afford medication, and since normal life has been disrupted, this is not possible for them. Besides, Some of the health workers who feel they are not properly protected are afraid of offering normal services.

With regards to community transmission of COVID-19 cases in Kano, the professor told Dubawa that:

“The second important point is that we now have COVID 19, in our communities and community transmission has been found to be occurring, so with the way our system is, some of them have been identified, through the testing and for some of them, they are already in the isolation centre but I am telling you that the system has been overwhelmed so much that there is no dispatch as to the interval between reporting that a person is suspected of having COVID 19 or contact of such a person for the Rapid Response team to come and take samples, tested and the necessary steps being taken in good time. 
There’s the time-lag between all these stages and definitely, this is not going to allow us to confirm that all those cases are COVID 19. So definitely, because the system is lagging behind, we do not still have the clear picture. Some of them will die before getting the test result especially if you consider the fact that, for the past two weeks, the only functional laboratory then had stopped working.
So, during that time, not all the deaths were able to be identified through testing. It goes like we do not know the cause of death in those situations but now that we now have the lab back, and additional laboratories, one belonging to the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital [AKTH] and the other one belonging to Bayero University Kano, [BUK], they are about to be functional now. Any death we will counter, we will ensure that a sample is taken to prove whether or not it is COVID-19 and I know that the true picture will come out clearer during subsequent weeks.”

Conclusion

While the tweet claimed that community transmission of COVID-19 was the sole cause of the recorded deaths in Kano, available evidence did not support her claim. So while the NCDC established community transmission in the state, the agency, however, suggested that only recorded 18 deaths directly resulting from the pandemic, refuting inferences of ‘multiple deaths’ circulating the media.

Lateef Sanni is a graduate of mass communication from Lagos state university. Before joining Dubawa, he belonged to the association of campus journalists where he was trained on the basics of fact-checking, a tool for combating misinformation in Nigeria. He joined the Dubawa team as a researcher and content developer for Dubawa's social media platforms. He consistently works to improve the dissemination of fact-checks through pictures [fact cards] and videos.

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