Zimbabwe is expecting more coronavirus testing kits from abroad to better determine the magnitude of the pandemic as it has about 12 000 Covid-19 test kits at the moment.
Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said in a ministerial statement to Parliament last week the country only has the capacity of doing 2 000 tests daily against a growing need to test more.
So far, 279 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and statistics show that a majority of those are returnees from neighboring countries who must be tested. After the Government decentralized testing to provincial institutions, laboratories have struggled to clear backlogs due to resource challenges.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak in March, Zimbabwe has carried out a total of 19 237 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and 23 594 rapid diagnostic tests. Recently, Mpilo Central Hospital confirmed that the Bulawayo had a backlog of more than 5 000 affecting retests to establish whether patients have recovered.
Dr Moyo said the key to the fight against Covid-19 lies in the ability to test more numbers as this will inform whether the disease is there or if the country only has sporadic incidence of the disease. He said his ministry submitted a request for additional financial allocation in order to test as many people as possible.
“Currently, the country has 9 000 laboratory-based PCR tests and 3 600 of the cartridge-based PCR tests.
“For this reason, whilst more deliveries are in the pipeline, testing has been prioritised for the quarantine areas and those patients presenting with classical symptoms of Covid-19,” said Dr Moyo.
According to Dr Moyo, there is anticipation of an increase in the testing demand following the rapid increase in positive cases recently.
“The country has the capacity to do slightly above 2 000 tests per day and we need to prepare for increased testing. The decentralization of PCR testing has also increased the access of the tests to the population with a decrease in turnaround time of results being observed,” said Dr. Moyo.
There is a total of six public laboratories in Zimbabwe and one private and they are still able to run 186 PCR tests per laboratory according to Dr Moyo. He said:
“There are fourteen provincial sites with the capacity to test using the machine called GeneXpert. Each of the sites can run 32 samples a day. This gives a total lab testing capacity of 448 for the GeneXpert per day. Thorngrove and United Bulawayo Hospitals are also sites whose bio-safety is being improved to enable testing.”
He said to curb the problem of returnees contributing most of the new Covid-19 cases, Government has made a decision to ensure that all the available resources be channeled towards testing all people in the quarantine centres.
“As deliveries improve, the testing can then be expanded to other groups of people. Parliamentarians are also earmarked for Covid-19 testing utilising PCR,” said Dr Moyo.
Bulawayo’s Covid-19 testing started at Mpilo Central Hospital’s National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory last month after the National University of Science and Technology’s (Nust) Applied Genetic Testing Centre (AGTC) moved in some of its equipment to complement Government efforts in fighting the pandemic.
The laboratory is supposed to conduct PCR tests for Bulawayo, Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Midlands and Masvingo.