Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, countries across Africa had their backs to the wall in the face of the magnitude of the COVID-19 virus. Only two African countries were equipped to test for the novel coronavirus: Senegal, with its Pasteur Institute, and South Africa, the most industrialized country on the continent.
The situation has since improved with countries across Africa developing COVID-19 testing laboratories.
“The challenge for African countries was to control contamination but also to relax restrictive measures to allow economies to reopen because the long-term extension of containment measures risked creating an economic and social crash,” said Atsuko Toda, Acting Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development at the African Development Bank.
Supported by the African Development Bank, several countries on the continent have achieved a logistical and scientific feat. As soon as the pandemic began, AfDB provided $2 million in emergency assistance to help the World Health Organization strengthen its capacity to support African countries. Since March 2020, the Bank has been helping countries cope with the health emergency and the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic, notably through its Covid-19 Response Facility of up to $10 billion.
After a few months, African countries, which had very few diagnostic devices, set up two, ten, or more laboratories, depending on their geographical and demographic characteristics. South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria quickly distinguished themselves on the number of daily tests, thanks to the growing number of laboratories made operational.
Detecting the virus
Early detection has been instrumental in limiting the spread of the virus and has helped countries trace, isolate and treat confirmed cases.
When the first case of contamination was announced on 11 March 2020, Côte d'Ivoire had no laboratory for detecting the coronavirus; it now has about 10.
In Burkina Faso, which initially transported its samples to Dakar, the number of screening laboratories has increased from 7 to 18, thanks to the support of development partners, including the African Development Bank. Test results are now obtained in 48 hours.
The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control has set up testing centers across Africa's most populous country to detect individual cases.
In Kenya, machines initially intended to test for HIV, tuberculosis or avian influenza were redirected to detect Covid-19, before the arrival of new machines acquired by the government.
According to statistics compiled in March 2021 by the African Development Bank's Regional Development, Integration and Business Delivery Complex (RDVP), the number of analytical laboratories in Malawi has increased tenfold from 14 to 164 and 2.5 in Ethiopia to 66; in the Central African Republic, five new screening laboratories have been established.
The results have been enormous. South Africa increased the number of daily screenings by seven times from 5,000 to 35,000, Ethiopia (3,000 to 12,400) and Burkina Faso (268 to 1,160).
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