Africa to roll out mass COVID-19 testing


The African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday announced an aggressive COVID-19 testing regime dubbed Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing (Pact) that targets more than one million people starting next week.

By Phyllis Mbanje

John Nkengasong, CDC director, yesterday said Pact was set to address the “big gap” in managing the disease in Africa where most countries have been accused of not testing enough people to effectively manage the spread of the deadly virus.

He said the United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) would be an instrumental partner for an all-stakeholder community mass testing programme, to be anchored on contact tracing.

“We are not resourced that is why we are calling on all stakeholders,” he said.

Nkengasong made a passionate plea for people to comply with lockdown measures in order to arrest the spread of the global pandemic that has so far killed over 135 000 people and afflicted more than two million across the globe since it was discovered in, Wuhan, China last December.

“We have a moral responsibility to contain the disease,” Nkengasong said.

“Every country has guidelines from World Health Organisation (WHO) that specify that a positive mild case should self-isolate at home while the more serious cases are observed at a health facility.”

However the CDC head said WHO guidelines on their own would not be enough to guarantee effective isolation, but a personal decision to protect the next person and contain the spread.

He admitted the difficulty in striking a balance between ensuring livelihoods and health.

“We find ourselves between a hard place and a rock” he said.

To date Zimbabwe has recorded 23 cases with 10 of them recorded in Bulawayo, the new hotspot in the country.

Harare, which recorded the first case on March 20, has eight cases.

The country has so far tested only 716 people due to resource constraints, but on Wednesday government announced an ambitious plan to test over 1 000 people a day to reach the 33 000 mark by the end of the month.

South Africa, with over 2 500 confirmed cases and 34 deaths, has tested over 80 000 people and is intensifying mass testing to complement its national 21-day lockdown, which has been extended by a further 14 days.
Africa needs over 15 million tests on its population of 1,3 billion people within the next six months to be able to manage the pandemic, according to CDC.

The continent has so far recorded more than 17 000 cases with South Africa, Egypt and Algeria the hotspots of the virus.

On lockdowns, Nkengasong said the restrictive measures were uncomfortable but necessary.

“The long-term gain is incomparable,” he said.

He, however, urged security members to desist from being heavy handed when dealing with people.

“They (security personnel) should observe human rights,” he added.

He also called for the protection of health workers and other frontline workers through the provision of personal protective equipment.

“It would be a big disaster if they are not protected,” he observed.

In partnership with WHO and World Food Programme, CDC is in the process of supporting the distribution of the second batch of a shipment of medical supplies largely from the Jack Ma Foundation, owned by Jack Ma, a Chinese billionaire.

“I have seen people incorrectly wearing masks, as well as opting for medical ones only. This should be stopped because it will deplete the resources for health workers. Other types of masks can be used in place of the medical masks,” he said.