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What is behind Nigeria’s unexplained deaths in Kano?

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The Nigerian president has expressed deep concern over a high number of unexplained deaths in the northern state of Kano, amid fears they could be caused by Covid-19.

President Muhammadu Buhari said a lockdown would be imposed in Kano for an additional two weeks, and that he was sending a government team to investigate.

Nigeria’s Health Minister Dr Osagie Ehanire says the situation is being “monitored closely”.

But following preliminary investigations the state authorities have dismissed a connection with coronavirus.

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Hundreds of people are rumoured to have died in the community but no official death records are kept.

Grave diggers initially raised concerns that they were burying a higher than usual number of bodies.

Ali, a grave digger at the Abattoir Graveyard, told the BBC: “We have never seen this, since the major cholera outbreak that our parents tell us about. That was about 60 years ago.”

grave digger
Image captionGrave digger Ali says he is burying more bodies
This week, the state governor issued a statement saying the “mysterious deaths” were unrelated to coronavirus.

But after ordering a “thorough investigation into the immediate and remote causes of the deaths”, announced that their preliminary findings “indicated that the deaths are not connected to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The state government said “reports from the state ministry of health has shown that most of the deaths were caused by complications arising from hypertension, diabetes, meningitis and acute malaria”.

“Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje is earnestly waiting for the final report from the state ministry of health so as to take the necessary action.”

The commercial and industrial centre of the north, Kano has become the epicentre of coronavirus in northern Nigeria. Its highly dense population is still in lockdown in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Don’t tests show the cause of death?
State officials started testing for Covid-19 two weeks ago and one lab has had to close due to contamination. Samples are being sent to the capital, Abuja, which authorities say is causing a delay in announcing how many positive cases have been detected in the state.

Dr Sani Aliyu, who is the national co-ordinator for the presidential task force on Covid-19, says a team of five medical experts were deployed to Kano to facilitate in reopening the testing centre this week after it was fumigated.

Officials also plan to open a second lab, at Bayero University, for testing for Covid-19 from next week.

How many people have died?
It is unclear how many people have died, as the deaths causing concern are happening in the community. Deaths in many parts of Nigeria are not registered, and so for those who died outside of hospital, no records are kept.

This makes it difficult to understand how many people have died in recent weeks.

Sabitu Shaibu, the deputy head of the state task force on Covid-19, is hoping to release preliminary findings of the investigation by next week but believes that most of the rumoured 640 deaths are from natural causes and says the figure is below the average death rate for Kano.

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