Central African Republic minister blasts ‘inequality crisis’ in coronavirus testing

epa08546680 A woman holds a swab test kit during COVID-19 tests at a hospital in Kolkata, India, 15 July 2020. The local government announced the ongoing coronavirus lockdown will continue until 31 July 2020 in 'containment zones.' EPA-EFE/PIYAL ADHIKARY

Central African Republic’s health minister has blasted a "big inequality crisis" in coronavirus testing as he sees rich countries conduct hundreds of thousands of tests daily while his own struggles to obtain supplies for a couple of hundred at most.

Pierre Somse told a World Health Organization (WHO) briefing on Thursday that “we are in a scarcity, a misery of tests” – a blunt assessment of the scrambling by African nations and rising fears as the pandemic’s first wave hits the continent of 1.3 billion people.

Somse said his country of more than four million people is still waiting for testing supplies ordered via the WHO.

“I believe this is due to global competition, this is well known,” he said.

He recalled listening to radio reports of thousands, even millions of tests carried out in richer countries in short stretches of time.

The United States has conducted more than 700,000 tests a day in the past few days. And weeks ago the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected late last year, tested nearly 10 million people in 19 days.

Central African Republic has more than 4,300 confirmed virus cases – a small fraction of the more than 644,000 across Africa – but the true number is unknown.

“It’s hiding a major health problem because we cannot have the real situation,” the health minister said.

Without donations of testing materials from the Chinese, “we could not have done nothing, nothing at all”.

He called for more than just talk about global solidarity in the pandemic, especially for “small and fragile” states, saying his own is being “completely overlooked” in the global race for testing and medical supplies.

Confirmed virus cases across Africa have jumped by 23 percent in the past week, and South Africa makes up nearly half of all cases.

Even South Africa, the continent’s most developed country, has pointed out shortages of testing materials as the backlog of tests at one point reached nearly 100,000 and the average wait for some results reached 12 days.

There is no doubt about the lack of testing materials, especially for low-income countries that rely on international support for procurement, said the WHO Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti.

In a separate briefing on Thursday, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
John Nkengasong warned that as Africa’s cases continue to climb sharply “we are in for a long, long journey”.


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