The Tony Blair Institute congratulates Dr Nkengasong and the Africa CDC for launching the Partnership to Accelerate Testing in Africa (PACT) and their leadership, which has been critical to the Covid-19 response right across Africa.
Kate Dooley, TBI’s West Africa Regional Director, who is leading the Institute’s Africa-wide coronavirus response management work said:
“The PACT goal of facilitating 10 million tests across Africa over the coming months will make a significant contribution to the ability of African countries to manage their outbreaks, in a context of severe shortages of diagnostic supplies. It’s an important complement to the work the Africa CDC have already done to expand diagnostic capacity through training lab staff and other support across the continent.
“However, to achieve the high rate of ‘mass testing’ being seen in Europe and elsewhere that is required to contain the virus, Africa would need to conduct around 65.5 million more tests. Even accounting for known supplies in the pipeline from PACT and other sources, there is a supply gap of around 25 million tests to achieve this. In this sense, even more needs to be done.
“If these volumes are simply not available in the global market in the short term, we are encouraging the Africa CDC and national governments themselves in Africa to also source reliable antibody tests. These tests serve a different function but can also give peace of mind to health workers and will provide governments with data to understand their Covid-19 outbreaks and where immunity exists in their communities.
“South Africa’s Western Cape is currently serving as a stark example of the consequences of diagnostic shortages – just yesterday, the Western Cape Premier announced a shift in their testing policy to heavily reduce the number of tests they would need to conduct, reflecting a severe shortage of reagents and extraction kits needed to conduct testing. They already have a backlog of 27,000 tests that have not yet been processed as supplies are being rationed.
“Rationing tests is one approach that many governments will need to consider to manage their use of limited supplies. In a recent report, the Tony Blair Institute recommended governments consider the following actions in response to this challenge:
Testing strategies should prioritise health workers to ensure they are protected and feel safe at work.
Governments could reconsider the need to test asymptomatic people before releasing them from quarantine and limiting which contacts are tested.
Pooled sample testing may be deployed where appropriate – Ghana has done this successfully.
With supplies running low, governments may also choose to record “probable” cases instead of administering PCR tests.
Governments can also utilise antibody testing, which is cheaper and easier to administer, to give peace of mind to health workers and gather further information on where transmission has taken place. This will be valuable data in planning to reopen countries to the global economy and with prioritising the rollout of an eventual Covid-19 vaccine.”
This graphic from our recent deep dive into Covid-19 in Africa explains the “supply gap” Kate refers to above.