Aniekeme Uwah, Akwa Ibom State epidemiologist, has been sacked by the state government under controversial circumstances.
Aniekeme Uwah, a former chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Akwa Ibom State branch, was leading the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 in the state as the state epidemiologist until his sudden removal on Friday.
According to Premium Times, the news of his removal first appeared on Facebook and Twitter on Friday afternoon before the state government, through Dominic Ukpong, the Commissioner for Health, later confirmed it a day after in a statement issued around 9 p.m. on Saturday.
The information that circulated on Facebook had it that Mr Uwah was removed for pushing in more samples for COVID-19 testing against the number ‘approved’ by the Commissioner for Health in Akwa Ibom, Dominic Ukpong.
Several media aides of Governor Udom Emmanuel scrambled on Facebook on Saturday to counter the information but ended up doing a poor job, posting contradictory and some hard-to-believe stories – in one of the stories, they claimed the sacked epidemiologist hung up a call against the governor. Mr Uwah had not spoken with the governor on the phone. He only had a meeting with the governor two days before he was sacked, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
“Reason” for Aniekeme Uwah removal:
Emmanuel John, the spokesperson of the NMA in the state, 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, he added.
“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.”
The removal of Aniekeme Uwah was one of the most unfortunate things to have happened in Akwa Ibom State, Mr John said.
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.”
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.