The Akwa Ibom State epidemiologist, Aniekeme Uwah was sacked by the state government under controversial circumstances.
An epidemiologist is a medical professional whose focus is mainly on the study and containment of disease outbreak, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, within a population.
Mr Uwah, a former chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Akwa Ibom State branch, was leading the fight against the spread of the coronavirus in the state as the state epidemiologist until his sudden removal on Friday.
He was among the African doctors honoured in 2019 by the African Union for their contributions to the fight against the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia.
There are 11 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Akwa Ibom State as of April 25.
The news of Mr Uwah’s removal was confirmed in a statement issued around 9 p.m. on Saturday.
“Reason” for his removal
Most people in Akwa Ibom were still confused or completely in the dark by Friday on why the state epidemiologist was sacked, until the spokesperson of the NMA in the state, Emmanuel John, went on a live radio interview on Saturday morning to say what he knew about the development.
"As at when the commissioner for health called Dr Aniekeme Uwah not to test more than 10 persons, Dr Uwah had already tested 19 persons,” Mr John, a medical doctor, said in the interview with Inspiration FM, Uyo.
“The 20th person waiting to be tested when the call came was a senior doctor, a nephrologist who had been exposed to COVID-19 and is self-isolating at the moment.
“What Dr Uwah did by testing 31 persons who met the case definition saved this state grand embarrassment if the people waiting to be tested were turned back for no clinical reason, and also saved the society from community infection, should they turn positive.”
Mr John said the removal of the epidemiologist was one of the most unfortunate things to have happened in Akwa Ibom State.
He said about 84 persons have been tested for the coronavirus in Akwa Ibom State so far.
“When we have a medical doctor who begins to talk about the politics of testing, it’s a shame. It is not acceptable. In medicine, we call it infamous conduct.”
The NMA spokesperson was asked if there was any rationale for testing some samples and leaving out some.
“There is no explanation,” Mr John responded.
“Before a doctor, every patient is equal. Why would you test one and leave the other? It is a bad medical practice, it is a bad public health practice.
“Some state governments who are doing this, they are banking on the fact that these symptoms can be self-limiting for some people with strong immunity. We understand what they are thinking, ‘Oh, if we do not test, the person may have the symptoms and then the person may recover on his own and then it is not recorded for us’.
“I want to say here, at the end of COVID-19, no state governor is going to receive a fund for not having so many cases. If there is anything, a government will get money for having a lot of cases. International partners do not take their money to where there are no challenges.”
Akwa Ibom government keeps mum
The health commissioner, Mr Ukpong was scheduled to be at the same radio station for a live interview by 12 noon to react to the allegations made by the NMA spokesperson, but he declined after the station had already announced his scheduled appearance.
The commissioner rather requested for a recorded interview to be done elsewhere because he was not comfortable with a live phone-in programme, a source close to Inspiration FM said.
The Commissioner for Information in Akwa Ibom, Charles Udoh, around 9 p.m. on Saturday sent out a statement signed by Mr Ukpong, informing the public that one Ntiense Umoette has been appointed as the new epidemiologist for the state.
Apart from saying that Ms Umoette’s appointment was “an internal reorganisation to match skills and competence to role”, the statement did not say why the former epidemiologist was sacked.