In order to follow the progression of the epidemic, the country has implemented a massive testing policy, carrying out around 15 screenings per day. But laboratories are struggling to keep pace. In late May, the country had nearly 000 people waiting to be tested, according to the Ministry of Health.

At the origin of the traffic jam: a lack of equipment. “We are facing a global shortage of reagents, a challenge that is becoming a difficulty for many countries”, noted Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize on May 26, in a press release cited by News24. A few days later, the government finally decided to play transparency on the real extent of the problem after weeks of denial. “There is no delay”, has long maintained the National Heath Laboratory Services (NHLS), in charge of the tests, while the rumor of the existence of a traffic jam has been mounting since March, as recalled by Mail & Guardian.

24 hours to 14 days for results

The subject nevertheless deserves transparency. “This delay has a significant effect on the ability to determine how the virus spreads and in which communities the transmission is highest. It also conditions the way the government manages the scarcity of medical resources at its disposal ”, underlines the Mail & Guardian.

The delay in the analysis of the tests also means that positive people can stay for days without knowing their status, at the risk of infecting those around them. “In many places across the country, [the deadline for obtaining the results] went from twenty-four hours to five to fourteen days ”, say two specialists in a forum on the specialized site Bekhisisa.

In order to remedy the problem, the same authors called on the government to urgently review its testing strategy in a forum published by the Daily Maverick early June. Mass screening policy “Apparently does not take into account the reality of the crisis affecting the ability of South Africa to support the tests of Covid-19”.

Conversely, they recommend the implementation of a more targeted policy: “The limited testing resources available in South Africa […] must be concentrated where the needs are greatest, namely in our health facilities.”

Over 55s and nursing staff

It is precisely by rethinking its testing strategy that the province of Western Cape, the most affected by the epidemic in the country, has practically managed to resolve the problem in recent days, reports News24 :

The delay has decreased significantly since [the province] limited its testing to people over 55, those with Covid-19 symptoms and caregivers. ”

According to the provincial health official, the number of pending tests fell from 28 in late May to 000 on Wednesday, June 3.

Nationally, care capacities are also improving. On June 10, South Africa had “more than” 63 tests pending, according to figures from the National Health Services Laboratory scrutinized by BusinessTech. Beyond the lack of reagents, Africa as a whole faces a shortage of tests that could mask the reality of the epidemic on the continent. “We must have products made in Africa, we cannot continue to import basic products”, said the director of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, in late May.

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