Daily ministry figures may not show actual Covid-19 situation, doctors say

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What you need to know:

  • Medics worry that backlogs and delays in releasing sample results are derailing progress in Covid-19 fight.
  • As it is, Kenya is yet to meet its target of testing one million people as the cumulative samples tested so far still fall short of 400,00. 
  • With just over 335,000 samples tested so far, 24,411 people have been confirmed positive. 

Figures issued by the Ministry of Health (MoH) on a daily basis may not be a true representation of actual infections, doctors have warned.

This, they say, is because of increased backlog and delays in sample testing, a situation medics see rendering the ‘test, trace and isolate’ exercise futile. 

As it is, Kenya is yet to meet its target of testing one million people as the cumulative samples tested so far still fall short of 400,00. 

With just over 335,000 samples tested so far, 24,411 people have been confirmed positive. 

Concern

In the update issued yesterday, Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman said Kenya recorded 538 new Covid-19 cases from tests carried out in the past 24 hours.

However, medics say, this number may not be representative of the actual daily rate of community infections among Kenyans owing to delays in testing.

“We recommend rapid review of results where best practice is 24–48 hours as opposed to now where it is 5 to 10 days,” said Dr Elizabeth Gitau, CEO Kenya Medical Association (KMA).

With this backlog, it is unclear what the Ministry of Health refers to when figures announced are tagged as being “in the last 24 hours”, especially since some medics have noted that their patients' Covid-19 results take up to 14 days to release.

“I am in Kiambu. We take our samples to Kemri and the turnaround time is usually one to two weeks,” said a doctor who requested anonymity during a virtual webinar hosted by KMA recently.

This delay, they say, is brewing conflict between medics and patients' families, especially deceased patients incurring mortuary bills as their kin wait for results. 

The hold up, they say, could also be contributing to high cases of infection due to late isolation of people carrying the virus.

Problem is, while they wait, many Kenyans go about their daily business and in the process spread the virus.

The trend is worrying since timely, accurate test results are vital in informing whether individuals need to be isolated under home-based care or hospitalised for close monitoring by doctors.

On its part, the Health Ministry in its daily Covid-19 Situation Reports acknowledges the long turnaround for relaying laboratory results as a key challenge that delays public health action. 

MoH says it plans to “strengthen Covid-19 diagnostic quality assurance.” 

In further plans to streamline testing, the government expects to match samples collected and the lab capacity at any given time, by drawing up a sampling schedule that allows collection of samples to be spread over a number of days thus avoiding backlog.

Isolate

Doctors are now advising that the best thing, for now, is for people who suspect they have been exposed to the virus to isolate as they await results. 

“Most counties do not have their own laboratories for testing and they have to rely on the national ones,” Dr Gitau adds.

To address the problem, the KMA recommends the results be fast-tracked by increasing the capacity of county laboratories to do the tests.

“This is with a view to improve data quality because all samples will be “fresh” by the time of analysis.”

KMA also recommends that the rapid response teams should keep track of samples and obtain results directly from the labs, as opposed to waiting for them to be submitted to the national data centre prior to being released to their clients through them.

Growing spread

A recent tally shows that coronavirus has now infected more than a million people in Africa,  with the number of cases passing 19 million globally. 

More than half of Africa's infections are in South Africa, which also has the fifth highest number of infections in the world after the US, Brazil, India and Russia.

The world's hardest-hit country is the US which recorded 2,060 deaths in the last 24 hours alone.