Covid-19 stories, failing test kits and poor diagnosis

Gikomba Market in Nairobi

Sellers and buyers are pictured at Gikomba Market in Nairobi on November 12, 2020, disregarding Ministry of Health guidelines for curbing the spread of the coronavirus disease.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The past two weeks have perhaps been the most traumatic since Covid-19 made its entry to Kenya. Although the government is trying its best, there are stories that we all need to know. Many of the test kits are failing, leading to misdiagnosis. As a result, people are dying. Here are some of the stories that I have encountered or experienced.

John and his three grown up children got sick at home. They did not have the classic Covid-19 symptoms but with one of them feeling tired, they nevertheless went for a test. It turned negative in all the four cases. They went home but their condition changed and they were all subsequently hospitalised. The doctor, relying on the result from the pathologist, suspected a different disease. The following two days, two of this family members died. The hospital decided to do another test on the remaining two. They were positive with Covid-19.

In another case, James had a running stomach. He too took a Covid-19 test. He was negative and his doctor suspected food poisoning. He was given some medicine but he too had complications at night forcing the family to rush him to hospital. A second test confirmed he had the virus. He survived perhaps because the family acted quickly and insisted on a second test.

Jill traveled from the US for her dad’s funeral. He had died of Covid-19. Sitting at the funeral, she started to feel unwell at their rural home. No one suspected any serious problem but she later collapsed and died. Her case was similar to Jones’ who also collapsed and died after complaining of a sudden severe headache. In both cases there was no autopsy.

Pathological features

Autopsies in China were critically important in exhaustively understanding the pathological features of the virus, clarifying how it invades and spreads in the body in order to develop prevention and treatment measures. As a result, the country has effectively dealt with the threat of Covid-19 pandemic.

Chinese Pathologists made crucial discoveries in both the etiology (process that initiates the disease) and pathology (study of the causes and effects of disease) of Covid-19. These studies led to the accuracy in diagnosis and treatment.

These experiences from other countries should trigger our curiosities with respect to how the disease manifests within the context of our population. There are many questions that need to be answered. One such question following these incidences is: Are there things we don’t know about how the virus manifests in our bodies? The simple answer to this question is yes there is more we don’t know even between two Africans and that is why we must put money into research. Last week Harvard Medical School Coronavirus Resource Center reported as follows:

One of the most perplexing aspects of coronavirus is why it strikes people so differently. Why do some people sail through without a symptom, while others — even some who are otherwise healthy and relatively young — get extremely sick or even die? It may have to do with interferons.

Immunity

New research suggests that up to 14 per cent of people who develop severe Covid-19 have an inadequate interferon response. In some people, this happens because their own antibodies mistakenly attack and neutralize their interferons. Others have a genetic mutation that prevents their body from producing enough of a certain type of interferon.

Interferons are an important component of innate immunity, the quick, nonspecific immune defense the body mounts within minutes of infection to rid the body of invaders.

In the absence of sufficient local knowledge of the disease profile, our safety can only be guaranteed if we followed the mitigating factors that include: frequent and thorough handwashing, avoiding to touch your face, social distancing, staying away from people who are sick, avoiding large gatherings, and regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects at home, in public places and any other risky setting. This should free up resources for research to develop local knowledge.

With the little knowledge that we now have, health workers must begin to treat every unexplainable symptom as Covid-19 unless it is proven without doubt that it is not.  This is also one way of stopping further spread since patients who are assured that it is not the virus go round as though they were normal. It is also for the safety of health workers.  Perhaps the rise in cases of frontline workers dying could be attributable the large number of asymptomatic people that are treated as though they have no virus.

Key questions

As we do the necessary to mitigate against the virus, governments too must take extra effort to stops crooks who may be selling to us counterfeit medical supplies. When Covid-19 started to ravage several countries, there were complaints of failing test kits.

The questions that linger in my head now include: Did those kits find their way to developing countries? Can the standards organisations in Kenya guarantee that every kit sold in the country is legitimate? Can Parliament pass a legislation to hold medical suppliers responsible for their indiscretion?

Finally, we must now embrace technology to enhance traceability of medical supplies from source to the consumer. Without the help of technology, we are simply encouraging the risk of misdiagnosis and its implications. There are just too many dishonest business people out there wanting to benefit from tragedy.

Let’s listen to all Covid-19 stories, ensure that the test kits are genuine and strengthen our healthcare systems to take actions out of abundance of caution.

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