Health expert: 'There is an urgent need to upscale Covid-19 testing facilities'

04 April 2020 - 14:28
By Prega Govender
Testing for Covid-19 involves an uncomfortable nasopharyngeal swab.
Image: Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images Testing for Covid-19 involves an uncomfortable nasopharyngeal swab.

The total number of people testing positive for the deadly coronavirus in SA is “an underestimate of the burden of Covid-19".

This is the view of Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand, who delivered a presentation to the university's council on Friday.

Madhi, who is also the director of the respiratory and meningeal pathogens research unit at the SA Medical Research Council, said that the number of confirmed cases is lower than the number of total cases “due to limited and/or restrictive testing criteria”. 

This was because the majority of testing in the private sector was done “using an  algorithm geared towards detecting imported cases and their contacts”.

“There was an emergence of 'sporadic cases', including health-care workers, indicating community transmission.”

According to the latest health department figures, there were seven Covid-19-related deaths while 1,505 people had tested positive for the disease.

Up until Friday, more than one million people worldwide were infected with the disease and there were 54,229 deaths.

Madhi said that there was an urgent need for the upscaling of the testing facilities.

Some of the priority areas for action that he identified included:

  • Upscaling countrywide diagnostic capacity;
  • Safety and protection of front-line health-care personnel;
  • Increasing access to mandatory flu vaccination;
  • Centralised and decentralised containment areas;
  • Systems management and logistic support for public hospitals;
  • Immediate private-public health-care partnership agreement;
  • Psychological preparedness and support for front-line health-care personnel; and
  • Community mobilisation at multiple fronts.