A warning was sounded by public health experts over the low supplies of COVID-19 testing kits in Africa even as a number of nations project that the virus will peak in months to come.
From Nigeria in the west to South Africa and Kenya in the east, COVID-19 cases have accelerated at an alarming rate as most countries engage in mass testing.
The testing capacities of African countries have been limited due to international competition for test kits and poor global coordination of resources. This has forced different countries to implement various testing strategies.
“Most governments are currently rationing their use of test kits given limited supplies. We are aware of some cases where African governments who placed orders in early March are still yet to receive the supply, six to eight weeks later,” Kate Dooley, the director for West Africa at the Tony Blair Institute, said.
According to Dooley, even with the availability of supplies, there remain significant challenges that the countries must overcome, among them testing capacity, logistics and staffing challenges.
Africa has reported lower total infections than other continents with this phenomenon being attributed in part to the swift and decisive interventions by governments. However, another attribution is the low testing rate across the continent leading some to speculate that the numbers could be higher than thought.
Others fear that the early success by African nations in containing the spread of the virus could be negated by the lack of supply of testing kits.
“Unless we can vastly ramp up testing we risk entering a stage where it spreads through communities where there isn’t the capability to test them,” Dr Iruka Okeke, the editor of the African Journal of Laboratory Medicine, told the Guardian.
This is underlined by statistics from the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) which showed that two countries, South Africa and Ghana, accounted for the 1.5 million COVID-19 tests conducted in Africa in the last 6 weeks.
Ngozi Erondu, a biosecurity expert and associate fellow at the Centre for Universal Health, Chatham House, said that strengthening the capacity of African countries to test the viral respiratory disease holds the key to its containment.
The Nigerian epidemiologist in an article that was recently published by the medical journal, the Lancet said that the absence of a vaccine should nudge African governments to ramp up investments in testing infrastructure for COVID 19 in order to minimize community transmissions and deaths.
The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is trialing a digital purchasing platform which will enable African governments to bulk order test supplies and protective equipment and, possibly, strengthen Africa’s negotiating position when bidding for supplies.