As an expected spike in COVID-19 cases looms, South African laboratories are facing a critical shortage of test kits and reagents needed to conduct coronavirus testing, says Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
According to Polity, both public and private sectors are showing a sharp decline in the number of tests conducted. "As a country, we are now facing a challenge with the global shortage of testing reagents. We understand it’s becoming a challenge to many other countries," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize is quoted as saying.
Polity reports that the shortages Mkhize referenced are clearly visible when reported testing data reported in by the Health Department. In a report on testing published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), containing testing analysis for the week of 11 to 17 May 2020, testing had increased significantly since early March, but in the past two weeks under review (4-17 May), testing had declined – particularly for the week ending 17 May. This was likely to due to shortages of testing kits and backlogs in labs.
Polity quotes Professor Glenda Davison, head of the biomedical sciences department at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, as saying that test kit availability would definitely be a reason for a decrease in testing. Davison highlighted that the NHLS was locked into using test kits from specific manufacturers, such as Cepheid in the US – the company that manufactures the GeneXpert machines and test kits.
While the NHLS uses other machines as well, such as Cobas models made by Roche, the GeneXpert machines are a crucial part of its plans to ramp up testing capacity – which has been hampered by a shortage of kits from the start. The GeneXperts are also fitted to mobile testing units procured by the NHLS, to be used in far-flung areas with no laboratory nearby.
Polity reports that the NHLS, responding to a query, said it was experiencing challenges regarding extraction and test kits in that ordered supplied could not be delivered due to logistical challenges that were "outside the NHLS' control".
Full Polity report