Africa's struggle with inadequate COVID-19 testing
(courtesy: The Lancet Microbe)
The hallmark of effective disease control is early diagnosis, and the prognosis of Africa's recent outbreaks before coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), especially Ebola and Lassa fever, largely hinged on it. Early diagnosis is even more important for COVID-19 pandemic, considering transmission risks potentially posed by asymptomatic individuals.
Like elsewhere, control efforts in Africa are limited by insufficient test kits, thus compelling African governments to restrict testing to individuals that met specifically narrowed criteria. In April, while the USA was approaching 4 million tests, Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, was just nearing 7000 tests. At the outset of the pandemic, only a few African countries had COVID-19 testing capacity, some had none. South Africa was supporting some neighbouring countries with testing. Since then, testing capacity has considerably improved across the continent, but access is still inequitable.
In Ghana, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) testing is available at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra and at the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research. The situation is similar in Uganda. In late April, Uganda had fewer than 60 confirmed cases but Gerald Mboowa, a bioinformatics and genomics researcher at Uganda's Makerere University attributed the low figures to the small number of tests conducted. “There may be 100 suspected cases but they will not test everyone…because there are very few test kits”, Mboowa told The Lancet Microbe.