Experts say testing kits shortage stumbling block to Covid-19 fight

Thursday, May 14th, 2020 00:00 |
Former head of Disease Prevention and Control at the Ministry of Health Dr Willis Akhwale. Photo/PD/FILE

Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu

With the shortage of Covid-19 testing reagents now proving a stumbling block towards government’s target to carry out more tests, experts have now warned that Kenya still has a long way to go in the fight against the pandemic.

On Monday, Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman said unavailability of reagents due to global demand remains a challenge towards meeting testing targets.

As a result, Kenya tests an average of 700 samples daily. This is against the capacity to test up to 37,000 samples according to Ministry of Health.

 “We could carry out more tests but we are constrained by shortage of reagents,” Dr Aman said on Monday.

The government is banking its hopes on counties to upscale preparedness to manage the virus at the community level.

As of yesterday, Kenya had tested only 33,916 samples against the population of 47,564,296 going by the 2019 national population census. 

On the other hand Uganda has so far tested 56,767 against a population of 45,518,852 with only 122 confirmed cases and nil deaths.

However, according former head of Disease Prevention and Control at the Ministry of Health Dr Willis Akhwale, it will be difficult for the country to manage the infections without proper testing. 

“First of all if you fail to test, will the curve form in the first place? No… the only way to monitor the situation is to test more sample… you must test to identify where the problem lies and that is the only way to come up with a proper plan to eradicate the problem. But without testing for sure it will be a tall order,” said Dr Akhwale.

With limited testing, Dr Akhwale observed further that the country would encounter challenges in managing the disease, in that infections might be spreading overwhelmingly.

He, however, says there is still an opportunity to manage the situation with the proposed strategic testing of severely ill patients admitted in hospitals and random testing in the community.

The approach, he said could help manage the curve in the sense that, the few testing kits available will be utilised for conducting targeted tests in areas with high infections.

On Monday, Health Director General (DG) Patrick Amoth hinted at proposals by the Ministry of Health to start mandatory Covid-19 tests for all admitted patients and those seeking admission in all hospitals in the country.

Once the proposal sails through, Dr Amoth said it will help minimise the spread of the virus to health workers in the frontline as well as other admitted patients.

“When people die at hospital they risk infecting health workers and patients at the wards who have a weak immune system.

Admission at a facility may soon require testing so that healthcare providers are protected,” he said.

 Dr Akhwale felt that government could also adopt group testing whereby samples collected from a particular group of population are mixed and tested as one.

Once the result turn negative, it is presumed that there is no positive case and the testing goes on to the next group. 

“This technique was applied in India which apparently had a similar problem of shortage of kits,” he said.

The expert further advised the government to use positivity rate, the daily admission rate and case fatality rate as key parameters for managing the pandemic, if the curve is to be flattened.

Kenya Medical Association (KMA) Coast branch vice chair Dr Riaz Kasmani said  as an option for shortage of the kits, introduction of rapid testing kits could save the situation.

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