Huge boost for mass testing bid in 40,000 kits donation

Wednesday May 13 2020
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Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe briefs the country on the coronavirus pandemic, at Afya House in Nairobi on April 15, 2020. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By VERAH OKEYO

To aid in the government’s aggressive track-test-and-isolate policy, Kenya has received nearly 40,000 testing kits as the country’s confirmed cases hit 225 after nine more people tested positive Wednesday.

One more person also died, bringing to 10 the total number of fatalities, a 4.6 per cent fatality rate. Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said the ministry had received a consignment from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.

Mr Kagwe listed what was received as follows: “18,900 swabs and viral transport medium, 18,912 extraction kits, 3,790 medical disposable protective clothing, ventilation machines, thermometer guns”.

These will be critical to the mass testing drive that the government announced on Tuesday. Swabs and transport media are used to ensure that when the samples are collected from people, the virus is kept active and protected from environmental damage until they reach the lab.

Mr Kagwe had said that while the laboratory capacity in Kenya is adequate, reagents and the collection of samples had dampened efforts to test more people. He attributed this to the fractured global procurement chain.

WHO'S MESSAGE

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Luckily, with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and countries like France and Germany, Kenya has tested over 8,500 samples and 803 in the 24 hours leading up to Mr Kagwe’s press briefing.

The generosity of these countries has boosted the country’s testing capacity. Since March, there have been global shortages even of the swabs, which are made by companies in just two countries — the US and Italy.

Speaking to UK daily The Guardian, Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics Chief Executive Officer Catharina Boehme said US companies have declared that they can’t supply anyone outside the US. The Geneva-based non-profit is a WHO-collaborating centre.

Three US companies making PCR tests — Abbott, Hologic and Cepheid — were told by their government not to export them. This left Africa, which uses their technology in HIV tests, with a single supplier — Roche in Switzerland.

With the tests available, Mr Kagwe is heeding the call made by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Dr Tedros said: “You can’t stop this pandemic if you don’t know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries — test, test, test. Test every suspected case. If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in close contact with up to two days before they developed symptoms and test those people too.”

COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION

Looking ahead to the endgame, testing and tracing contacts, figuring out where the virus has been and who is still vulnerable is widely acknowledged among local scientists to be the way to stop and stamp out the vicious itinerary of a pandemic.

CS Kagwe agrees. He said: “We will be able to isolate cases, including asymptomatic ones, in good time.”

This is particularly critical because Covid-19 is now dictated by community and asymptomatic transmission, where people are positive but do not show signs of the disease.

The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that these account for 25 per cent of the transmission. Tellingly, the nine people who tested positive had no history of travel out of the country.

Mr Kagwe said the ministry would use “the risk profile approach announced yesterday. We are working round the clock to double our sample collection and testing capacity”.

The approach refers to mass testing, starting with healthcare workers who are interacting with patients, informal settlements, companies such as Kenya Ports Authority, where many people have tested positive for Covid-19, and geographical locations from where people have been picked during contact tracing.

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