Africa CDC tries to ramp up coronavirus tests as lockdowns ease

Africa needs to triple its coronavirus testing in the coming months "to move ahead of the curve" as more countries ease lockdown measures, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, June 4.

The continent has so far conducted 3.4 million tests, a figure that director Dr John Nkengasong told journalists he wants to see climb to 10 million "in the next 2 or 3 months."

The current total translates to a rate of 1,700 tests per one million people across Africa, far below the UK's rate of 30,000 tests per million and Italy's 37,000, Nkengasong said.

As of Thursday morning, Africa had recorded 162,000 cases and 4,600 deaths, with an average of 5,400 new cases per day in the past week, Nkengasong said.

Those numbers could spike as countries ease lockdown measures imposed to limit the spread of the virus, he added.

"Our situation will likely get worse before it gets better," Nkengasong warned.

"As we begin to relax some of the lockdown measures, which is part of balancing between saving lives and saving the economy, we expect to see that numbers will increase."

The Africa CDC has so far distributed 2.5 million tests to African Union member states, the director said.

Yet some countries still don't have the kits they need.

South Africa reported last week it had more than 83,000 samples that were unprocessed for lack of supplies.

"The whole world is scrambling to get all the kits, the laboratory kits, and that's where we are actually getting squeezed now," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said last week.

A platform established to help African countries procure supplies to combat COVID-19 has secured 15 million tests per month for the next 6 months, Nkengasong said.

Despite this progress, he acknowledged that conducting 10 million tests would still cover less than 1% of Africa's population.

Africa would need to conduct 65.5 million more tests "to achieve the high rate of 'mass testing' being seen in Europe and elsewhere that is required to contain the virus," Kate Dooley of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change said in a statement Thursday.

The institute has called on the Africa CDC and African governments to source antibody tests, which it says are "cheaper and easier to administer" and can help "gather further information on where transmission has taken place." –