Twenty-four countries in Africa have confirmed to the World Health Organization (WHO) that they can test for potential Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.
WHO in a statement said that as at two weeks ago, only two referral laboratories – one in South Africa and another in Senegal were capable of doing so.
The scaling up of testing capacity across the African continent represents a significant milestone in COVID-19 preparedness efforts, it said.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said it was crucial that countries in Africa were self-sufficient with respect to testing for COVID-19, given the huge challenges that many face in shipping samples across Africa or in some cases beyond the continent.
“But high global demand for reliable and accurate testing kits has strained supply chains and resulted in production and delivery bottlenecks. However, these are being overcome,” she said.
The statement said that at the beginning of the outbreak, the vast majority of national laboratories in Africa lacked the reagents necessary for testing.
“As the virus had not been in humans before, there were no pre-existing supplies of reagents that could be used to test for its presence. As soon as the genetic sequence of the virus was published, manufacturers around the world began racing to produce reagents. “
In addition to the 24 national laboratories with diagnostic capacity for coronavirus, it is expected that an additional 18 will be able to conduct tests, once they receive reagents, with some needing support, bringing the total to 42 laboratories. The remaining five countries will need more support.
Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire had recently said that the country has capacity to detect and respond to the coronavirus in case it is imported into the country.
The minister said that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) worked closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other partners to establish testing capacity at its Reference Laboratory in Abuja and others in the country.
WHO Technical officer on Health Emergency Programme , Dr Dhamari Naidoo during a recent media training for reporters on the global coronavirus outbreak said one of the key components of preparing against the outbreak in the region was laboratory and diagnostic capacity , adding that WHO is supporting through the procurement and distribution of diagnostic kits which would be rolled out in 20 countries in Africa .