Ministry plans to test 50,000 at risk of Covid-19 in two weeks

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Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and Kenyatta National Hospital board member Stanley Kamau during a press briefing on Covid-19 at the hospital in Nairobi on April 20, 2020. PHOTO/COURTESY

In Summary

  • The testing — which is ongoing and will run up to May 3 — will see about 14,000 port and health staff and truck drivers and 10,000 people in five counties tested.
  • Other cadres to be tested include 5,000 investigating geographic hotspots, 5,000 persons in quarantine and hotels, all 3,000 healthcare workers in the frontline, 3,000 contacts of confirmed cases and 1,400 suspected cases.
  • The ministry is also considering testing 2,000 persons with influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infections (Sari).

The Ministry of Health has outlined plans to test about 50,000 people at high risk of the coronavirus in two weeks.

The testing — which is ongoing and will run up to May 3 — will see about 14,000 port and health staff and truck drivers and 10,000 people in five counties with confirmed local transmission tested through the random sampling methodology.

“In the Nairobi metropolis, we will test 5,000, Mombasa 2,000, Mandera, Kilifi and Kwale 1,000 each respectively,” Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told the National Assembly committee on Heath on Tuesday.

The persons targeted in the counties include supermarket workers, PSV workers, market vendors and people who came into contact or interact with a high number of people per day.

OTHER TESTS

Other cadres to be tested include 5,000 investigating geographic hotspots, 5,000 persons in quarantine and hotels, all 3,000 healthcare workers in the frontline, 3,000 contacts of confirmed cases and 1,400 suspected cases.

The ministry is also considering testing 2,000 persons with influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infections (Sari) distributed to eight influenza sentinel surveillance sites (Nakuru, Nyeri, KNH, Kakamega, Marsabit, Mombasa, Siaya and Kakuma).

“We have emphasised the crucial importance of testing and speed is of the essence, and three things are crucial — tracking down cases with symptoms; identifying their households cluster; and tracking people they’ve contacted, and quarantining them until they are no longer infectious. Testing is the basis of public Health detective work to shut down an epidemic,” he said.

TRANSMISSION CHAINS

Mr Kagwe said that it is difficult to fight a virus if the ministry does not know where it is hence they have adopted the mantra ‘Test, Isolate, Treat and contact trace’ to break the chain of transmission.

However, Mr Kagwe ruled out mass testing owing to cost implications. He said it costs Sh7,500 to conduct a test for one person.

Explaining how the cost is arrived at, Mr Kagwe told the lawmakers that after the first test, whether an individual turns out negative or positive, the exercise has to be repeated at least twice to confirm the result before releasing a person to the public.

“One can be tested even five times depending on the nature of the results. Every test cost Sh2,500,” he said.

“There is a notion that we will go out there and start testing people. It does not make sense at all to go out there and just test people. It is very expensive,” Mr Kagwe added.

CRITICISM

The Senate ad hoc committee chaired by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, however, faulted the government’s strategy of mass targeting, saying it only represents a fraction of the population.

In a report tabled before the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, the committee wants the ministry to exploit its full capacity on mass testing.

Dr Patrick Oyaro, public health and HIV tracker, lauded the government’s plan: “Asymptomatic people may not have any symptoms and look fine but they have the virus and will infect many others.”

The Ministry of Health’s strategy is similar to USA’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which also prioritized high-risk patients, specifically those over 65 and those suffering from other health conditions such as diabetes that make them vulnerable.