There are currently six laboratories in Africa with capacity to diagnose the novel coronavirus. The laboratories are in Nigeria, Ghana, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and South Africa.
Disclosing this during a media briefing on novel coronavirus preparedness in Africa, the World Health Organisation, WHO, confirmed that more laboratories in the Africa region are upgrading their diagnostic capacity.
The WHO said while there are no confirmed cases of new coronavirus reported in the African region, the 2019-nCoV is high risk for some African countries, because of close ties with China, so it is strengthening support to countries in the detection and management of suspect cases and in ensuring a robust response, should a first case be detected.
“Since the 22 January 2020, WHO has received dozens of alerts regarding possible novel coronavirus infections from 20 countries. Once countries investigate these alerts to determine if they meet the definition of a 2019-nCoV suspect case, samples are taken and sent to laboratories.
“As this is a new virus, up until early this week there were only two laboratories – one in Senegal and the other in South Africa – which had the reagents needed to test samples and they have been working as referral laboratories for countries around the region.
“Four more countries (Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria and Sierra Leone) have now reported they can conduct tests as well. WHO is sending kits to 29 laboratories in the region which will ensure they have a diagnostic capacity for novel coronavirus and can support testing samples from the neigbouring countries as well.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said: “A new virus is always a challenge and most laboratories in Africa lack the key material they need to perform tests on a novel pathogen.
“WHO is working with countries to rapidly scale-up diagnostic capacity for 2019-nCoV. It is crucial that countries in the region can detect and treat severe cases early, preventing a widespread outbreak, which could overwhelm fragile health systems.”
Already, the WHO said has identified 13 top priority countries in the region, which due to their direct links or a high volume of travel to China need to be particularly vigilant for the novel coronavirus.
Support teams from the WHO are arriving in Nairobi, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Congo, Mauritius, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ethiopia and by the end of the week staff would be in a palace in place in all of the 13 countries.
In a related development, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, says it is validating capacity of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, to test for the novel coronavirus.
The Director-General of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, who disclosed this on Wednesday, noted: “We have set up capacity to make a diagnosis of coronavirus in Abuja and would do the same in Lagos this week. Lagos and Abuja are our main points of entry.”