Study Says Kano Deaths Linked To COVID-19, Experts Worry Over Community Transmission

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and a group of health experts have linked the mass deaths in Kano State to the coronavirus pandemic.

The state currently had 313 COVID-19 confirmed cases as at Sunday night, making it the second highest infected among the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Dr Sani Gwarzo, the National Coordinator of the PTF, on Sunday said, coronavirus was behind mass deaths in Kano.

The state has recorded an unusual increase in deaths since it had its first confirmed COVID-19 case in April.

Abdullahi Ganduje, the Governor, had denied that the deaths were associated with COVID-19 but promised an investigation into the issue.

He also announced that after consultation with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the state government agreed on conducting “verbal autopsy” to ascertain the cause of the deaths.

Gwarzo, who also lost his father during the period in Kano, said investigation had shown that COVID-19 was responsible for some of the deaths.

“Let me inform you that most of the deaths recorded of recent and tests carried out showed that coronavirus was the cause.

“So, before the final report which will be ready in the next one week or few days, it is necessary for people of Kano to wake up from their slumber that this is a serious issue.

“We need to know what is happening. We are successful in identifying what the problems are and secondly we are happy with the level of cooperation between the private sector and other stakeholders.

“Many people have come out to support the state. We cannot expand our investigation until we are certain,” he said.

Gwarzo also mentioned that there were cogent reasons to say that the mass death recorded in Kano was associated with the coronavirus.

He listed them as the age of the deceased persons, concentration of the people in one place and “tests we have constructed which have elements of COVID-19”.

The findings of the PTF were confirmed by members of a coalition of female doctors, Maryam Nasir, Zainab Mahmoud, and Khadija Rufai whose studies showed that COVID-19 was responsible for the mass deaths.

They initiated an investigation on the increase in mortality rate and to determine if the cases might be due to the severity of COVID-19 crisis in Kano State.

The coalition submitted the report to the authorities and did not seek or receive any external support.

“We were just trying to do our part,” Dr Zainab Mahmoud told HumAngle.

The investigation involved the use of verbal autopsy to obtain two sets of information and medical history from the families, friends, neighbors or relatives of the dead.

The study was conducted over a period of 48 hours and analysed 183 reported deaths that occurred between April 18 and April 25.

The study found a trend of febrile and respiratory illness that progressed to death within one to two weeks.

These deaths, according to the study, occurred in various localities in Kano and were predominantly among elderly people with underlying medical conditions

The study found that 88 per cent of those who died had high fever, 76 per cent were coughing and 80 per cent suffered respiratory problems.

Data analyses indicated an uptake in deaths from a febrile illness and given COVID-19 pandemic, the report concluded that it was highly likely and plausible that the deaths reflected a similar pattern occurring around the world.

Mahmoud told HumAngle that ‘’verbal autopsy used during the study gives some insight into the cause of death.”

“It, however, has limitations as highlighted in the report. More investigations should be carried out in Kano with an increase in screening and testing,” she said.

The report said community transmission was happening in Kano and recommended enhancing testing capacity, community-based testing, and setting up of mobile testing centers.

Mahmoud said, “Personal Protective Equipment should be provided to all staff with potential exposures, especially at points of initial patient contact.

“I think we are already on a slippery slope towards a disaster. The government should take decisive and thoughtful actions that would work in our society.

“Most importantly, they should raise awareness amongst the populace regarding this grave danger.”

According to Mohammed Alhaji, an expert with Solina Centre for International Development and Research in Abuja, the confirmation of COVID-19 among almajiri (street children ) repatriated from Kano lends credence to the fact that the virus has permeated the whole social strata of Kano State, from the affluent to the downtrodden.

“Therefore, quickly, some of the strategies needed to arrest the trend should include sample collections across all the local government and active case house to house sample collection, prioritising houses where death (of aged persons) have recently occurred,” Alhaji added.

He also said that the government must announce good incentives for health workers, including life and infection insurance for them.

“They should establish real-time e-training channels and short clips for health workers on how to put on/remove PPEs as well as infection control protocols and engage influential religious leaders to communicate guidelines via TV and radio, “ Alhaji added.

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Murtala Abdullahi

Abdullahi Murtala is a researcher and reporter. His expertise is in conflict reporting, climate and environmental justice, and charting the security trends in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. He founded the Goro Initiative and contributes to dialogues, publications and think-tanks that report on climate change and human security. He tweets via @murtalaibin

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