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Corona testing curbed by lack of test materials

testing Novel Coronavirus
Testing sample of a suspected case of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Stuttgart, Germany on January 29, 2020. PHOTO | AFP 

Testing for coronavirus disease in the country is being held back by a shortage of test materials in government laboratories.

The Business Daily has established that State institutions like the National Influenza Lab and the Kenyatta National Hospital have a backlog of unprocessed tests, in a sign of the impact of the shortages caused by a worldwide race to acquire test kits.

“We have been experiencing a shortage since Friday and Kenyatta National Hospital along with some other government labs cannot conduct the tests at the moment. The shortage is mostly on the automated kits like the reagents for Roche,” said a top official at the National Influenza Lab who sought anonymity.

He added that the lack of testing kits will hold Kenya back from ramping up diagnostic testing to better understand where the coronavirus is spreading and how to stop outbreaks.

Chemical reagents are substances used for chemical analyses of the samples extracted from nasal swabs.

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“Suppliers are not able to meet our demands because everybody in the world is looking for exactly the same thing,” said a doctor at KNH.

Kenya is now seeking to intensify testing further in major hotspot areas where infections are accelerating as the country mulls over easing the strict movement restrictions including the dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Government facilities offer free testing that has fed into Kenyans preference for State labs. Private labs charge between Sh8,700 to Sh10,000.

Private hospitals like the Aga Khan University Hospital say they have sufficient kits. However, tests are not done on request.

Dr Twahir Majid, the Chief of staff at the facility, said they conduct tests on those with symptoms or those who have interacted with a coronavirus patient.

The number of daily tests in Kenya has more than halved since Friday when the country examined 3, 831 persons for Covid-19 compared 1, 574 and 1, 581 on Sunday and yesterday respectively.

Kenya is trailing countries like South Africa on testing with about 78,536 tests by May 31 that had recorded about 2,021 positive cases.

South Africa has tested more than 750, 000 tests and recorded more 34,375 positive cases.

Smaller and wealthier nations, like Mauritius, have some of the highest testing rates, even by global standards.

It has carried out the equivalent of 11 tests for every 1,000 people as at May 19, South Africa has done 7.5 tests per 1,000 people, Rwanda (3.5 tests) and Kenya (0.7), according to figures compiled by global consultancy firm McKinsey & Company.

Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is setting up a platform for African countries to pool their pandemic-related medical procurement to ease the pain of obtaining testing materials. Kenya’s Health ministry had projected that Kenya would have about 10,000 cases by the end of last month. This modelling used several parameters, one being testing of 200,000 to 300,000 people by April 30.

Authorities have announced targeted mass testing. However, less than 80,000 people have been tested. The government had an ambitious target of testing 250,000 people by the end of this month. This does not seem tenable with only 78,536 samples collected so far.

Kenya now has 15 operational laboratories for Covid-19 tests including the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) in Nairobi, Kilifi and Kisumu.

Others are Aga Khan University Hospital, the Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi Hospital, Walter Reed in Kericho, Lancet, Coast General Provincial Hospital, and the National Public Health Laboratories Services.

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