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African countries secure 90 million coronavirus test kits for next six months

Last week, South Africa said it had a backlog of more than 96,000 unprocessed specimens awaiting coronavirus tests, reflecting what the government called a global shortage of test kits.

The Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku with teams of field workers in Ekurhuleni District, Glen Marikana Informal settlement to form part of the screening and testing campaign aimed to combat the spread of COVID-19 on 17 April 2020. Pictures: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN

ADDIS ABABA - African countries have secured 90 million test kits for the novel coronavirus for the next six months, a regional disease control body said on Thursday, urging states and donors to boost testing capabilities on the continent as quickly as possible.

“We needed to increase our testing very quickly to about 10 to 20 million tests to move ahead of the curve. This is a call to action which means we have to rally everybody,” said John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), a branch of the African Union bloc.

Nkengasong presented a new initiative, the Partnership to Accelerate Testing in Africa (PACT), which aims to increase testing across the continent. He added that 3.4 million tests have been conducted in Africa so far, about 1,700 tests per 1 million people, compared to 37,000 tests per 1 million in Italy and 30,000 per 1 million in Britain.

Last week, South Africa said it had a backlog of more than 96,000 unprocessed specimens awaiting coronavirus tests, reflecting what the government called a global shortage of test kits.

Even with the supplies from PACT and other sources, there is a supply gap of around 25 million tests needed to match the testing rate of Europe, according to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

So far Africa has 161,793 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with 4,592 deaths and 69,953 recoveries, according to a Reuters tally based on government statements and World Health Organisation data.