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Headlines that Covid has re-emerged in Nigeria’s Benue state misleading, health officials say

In December 2023, a national newspaper and other publications reported that 25 new cases had been confirmed in the north-central state. This is incorrect, health officials said.

The headline of an article on Afrika Eyes, an online news website, claims that the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed 25 new cases of Covid in Benue state in north-central Nigeria.

The December 2023 report continues to circulate online. The same headline has been spotted on Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter).

The story first appeared in the Vanguard newspaper and on its front page

A day after the Vanguard article, on 14 December, the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Ifedayo Adetifa, issued a statement denying the newspaper's claims.

The NCDC is responsible for protecting public health and safety through the control and prevention of communicable diseases.

The headline was “a complete misinterpretation of a statement made on 11th December 2023 by a WHO State surveillance officer”, Adetifa said.

25 Covid cases between January and April 2023 

“Benue State had recorded a total of 25 cases in the year 2023 with the last case recorded as of mid-April,” he said, adding that the surveillance officer's information saying the same came from a publicly available situation report.A

Adetifa gave more data. Since the first case of Covid in Nigeria in February 2020, there had been:

  • 6,013,826 tests conducted
  • 267,184 confirmed cases
  • 3,155 deaths

In the last quarter of 2023, from October to December, 15,481 tests were carried out, with 75 cases confirmed in 25 states.

In May 2023, the WHO declared that Covid “no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern”.

Since then, Adetifa said, Nigeria has included the virus in its “integrated disease surveillance strategy as a priority infectious disease which now requires conducting routine Covid testing and reporting it along with other infectious diseases”.

‘Infodemic still a concern’

Benin state commissioner for health, Yanma Ortese, also disputed the claim of a resurgence.

“Earlier, this year, there was a survey … in Nigeria, they got people screened for tuberculosis, Human ImmunoDeficiency Virus and by extension, they added COVID-19, and 25 tested positive for COVID-19.

“But since then, I mean May 2023 till now, we have not recorded any,” Ortese said.

Adetifa urged “responsible reporting” to avoid “any public health threat that may arise from the infodemics that follow incorrect and/or sensational health reports”.

The Vanguard paper has since published a follow-up story. This was headlined COVID-19 resurgence in Benue: Report misrepresents WHO’s statement — NCDC.

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