Africa CDC in drive to ramp up Covid-19 testing

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is on a drive to ramp up antigen testing, which provides Covid-19 test results faster and are cheaper than Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests that are time-consuming and more expensive.

Testing in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), has been low compared to other regions, amid concerns that irregular levels of testing over time may be masking the true spread of the coronavirus.

Although PCR is referred to as the gold standard of testing, PCR Covid-19 tests are costly, a disadvantage for some economically challenged African countries.  

Antigen tests, on the other hand, can detect the presence of specific viral antigen which imply infection and are relatively cheaper and can be used at the point of care while results can be out in 15 minutes.

Giving a Covid-19 epidemiological update of Africa in a briefing with sub-Saharan journalists, Deputy Director of Africa CDC, Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, said the core of knowing the Covid-19 disease burden and its extent lay in testing.

“The number of tests being done per reported case is at 9.1 tests and what should be recommended is that we must be at 10 and above. Over 27 million tests have been conducted in the continent, which is quite good but the number of tests per reported case still need to increase,” said the health expert.

To increase the tests, Dr Ogwell said Africa CDC intended to ramp up antigen testing since there were now good quality products coming into the market.

“Antigen tests are rapid, as they can take anything from five to 15 minutes for you to have your results and the costs are much lower than PCR,” he said.

“We have embarked on a global partnership to make 120 million affordable high quality Covid-19 rapid tests available in low and middle income countries so that we make sure we have Covid-19 result coming out rapidly as possible.”

Africa CDC is working with the World Health Organisation, Unitaid, Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), The Global Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr Ogwell said Africa has over three million confirmed cases, documented over 72 000 deaths while 2.4 million people have recovered.

“Some time in July 2020, we had our first peak and 18 000 new cases were documented daily. In the second wave, we are documenting 23 000 per day and we have not yet peaked yet looking at the festivities that we just concluded. We are gearing for slighter large numbers than these but we will to try keep numbers relatively lower,” said the Africa CDC official.

According to media reports, 10 countries in Africa account for about 70 percent  of the total tests conducted so far and these are  South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, Uganda and Ghana.

South Africa is reported to be doing the most tests.

In Zimbabwe, health professionals, opposition politicians and activists have sounded the alarm over shortage of test kits and infrastructure challenges.

They have lamented that lack of critical equipment and infrastructure shortages may result in many cases going undetected.

Last year, the Ministry of Health and Child Care said there were laboratories in the country that were conducting Covid-19 testing without receiving approval or certification from relevant authorities.

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