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Shortage of Swabs Threatens to Derail Mass Testing in Kenya 04/21/2020

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Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe (Left) and his Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi during a press briefing in March 2020.
  • The Health Ministry under Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe may soon rule out mass testing as the country experiences a shortage of swabs and reagents globally.

    The swab is thin — less than three millimetres in diameter at its tip and is a small piece of soft material used to collect a sample.

    On Sunday, April 19, Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi detailed that the ministry had hatched a new testing prioritisation strategy as they shifted to frontline health workers and Coronavirus hot spots. This is even as random mass testing had begun in densely populated areas such as Kibra, Nairobi.

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    Health Ministry Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi addressing the media, April 2020.


    "All healthcare workers and other first responders directly interact with many people," Mwangangi clarified.

    The government so far has been running its tests on traced contacts of the infected individuals, with MoH Director-General Patrick Amoth stating that Kenya had missed out on its projection due to low testing.

    "I think we have had various modelling plans and the first one was that which we spoke about in April, but looking at the samples we had tested, because of the global supply challenges regarding testing kits, we have not reached the number we had anticipated.

    "We hope as we go forward, we can reflect the figures we had projected," Amoth stated, recalling that the ministry had estimated 10,000 Coronavirus cases by the end of April.

    Questions were also raised on Kenya's ability to run tests despite the availability of laboratories, machines and personnel and a shortage of testing kits.

    To allay these fears, Health CS Kagwe stated that they had hatched a way to ensure that tests were conducted within the 47 counties in Kenya.

    "Indeed the world countries have adopted the mantra, test, isolate, treat and trace, same to Kenya. The Pharmacies and Poisons Board is now accelerating regulatory decisions in regards to Covid-19 test kits. It is implementing stringent expedited accreditation mechanisms which shall shrink the process from three months to 48 hours. Using this approach the board has authorised the employment of four test kits for detecting the virus.

    Our capacity for testing will be expanded to cover at least one laboratory across the country and will commence in about 2 weeks," Kagwe explained.

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    A medical personnel holding a Covid-19 virus test kit.


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