AT a press briefing on March 16 in Geneva, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, disclosed that without early testing of suspected cases of the coronavirus the chain of infection will not be broken.
“ The backbone of every country’s public health response to this outbreak is testing, isolation, and contact tracing.
“If they test positive, isolate them & find out who they have been in close contact with up to 2 days before they developed symptoms and test those people too,” he said.
Since the first index case was recorded in Nigeria, less than 100 cases of coronavirus infections have been documented as at March 25.
The country boasts of five testing centres spread across four states namely Abuja, Edo, Lagos, and Osun.
Data from Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, shows that 333 people had been tested as of March 24.
The NCDC’s approach in managing the coronavirus spread is restricting tests to people who show severe symptoms of the disease or have come in contact with confirmed cases.
For a population of over 200 million people, the number of people tested for coronavirus in Nigeria pales into insignificance when compared to other African countries with testing facilities at the same operating capacity as Nigeria.
Data obtained from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, NICD, shows that the country has carried out over 20,471 tests as at March 26 which is more than 50 times compared to tests conducted in Nigeria whose first index case was recorded a week before South Africa.
According to records from WHO, only 36 of 54 countries in Africa have the capacity to test for the coronavirus, but an increase in cases of the virus could overwhelm these laboratories.
Hala Zayed, Egypt’s Health Minister in a press conference to review how coronavirus infections have spread in the country and the government’s response said an estimated 25,000 people had been subjected to tests in Egypt as at March 26.
The ongoing tests will continue alongside the closure of airports nationwide, which has now been extended through April 15.
Egypt’s Health Ministry offers testing for citizens for 1,050 Egyptian Pounds, an equivalent of $66 which could take 3 or 4 days. Quick test results that could be available in hours costs as high as 2,500 pounds, approximately $158.
Ghana Health Services, GHS, confirmed on its website as of March 26, it had conducted 2,228 tests among which 138 cases were affirmed positive based on the results since its first index case was recorded on March 12.
Since 12 March when Ethiopia’s first case was discovered, 718 laboratory tests have been conducted according to the health ministry.
Kenya has tested a total of 193 cases in three laboratories since the announcement of its first COVID -19 case on March 13, while Mauritius has conducted 676 tests of which 36 have been positive according to the information published on the country’s Ministry of Health and Wellness website as at March 24.
Mauritius short term target is to carry out tests on 4,000 citizens which will then be extended to 100 000 people.
However, records on the rate of coronavirus testing carried out in most African countries are not publicly accessible but the numbers of those available are low when compared with other European or Asian countries.
South Korea leads the pack for countries having tested more people for the coronavirus than any other country, which has led to reduced cases, having conducted over 300,000 tests which are more than 40 times that of the United States.
Kang Kyung-Wha, South Korea’s foreign minister in an interview said early testing was key behind the low fatality rate in South Korea.
“Testing is central because that leads to early detection, it minimizes further spread and it quickly treats those found with the virus,” he said.
Will Jack Ma’s test kits solve the testing challenge
Founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, Jack Ma, donated 100,000 face masks, 1,000 protective gowns and 20,000 test kits which are expected to be distributed to frontline health workers and hospital laboratories across the country was received into Nigeria earlier this week.
However, reports suggest that up to 80 per cent of the 150,000 portable, quick coronavirus test kits from China delivered to the Czech Republic earlier this month were faulty.
The test kits which can provide a result between 10 to 15 minutes are usually less accurate compared to other tests because of the high error rate, as the country continues to rely on conventional laboratory tests, of which they can perform about 900 tests daily.
In Spain, which has witnessed more than 56,000 infections and over 4,000 deaths from coronavirus which had purchased the rapid test kits from the Chinese firm, Bioeasy announced that the kits correctly identified 30 per cent of coronavirus cases according to a report.
It is unclear if Jack Ma’s gift from China to Nigeria will be tested to ascertain if it is prone to errors but reports hint that Nigeria’s testing capacity for coronavirus could increase by 32 per cent when put to use.
Rosanna Peeling, chair of diagnostics research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the key to depleting the cases of coronavirus is tied to quicker and cheaper tests.
“There is no shortage of lab tests in Africa, but what we want is the faster, cheaper test to quickly confirm if there is an outbreak and contain it, before it gets bigger. Africa still has that luxury, unlike Europe and North America,” she said.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.