JOHANNESBURG – South Africa says it has a backlog of nearly 100,000 unprocessed tests for the coronavirus, a striking example of the painful shortage of testing kits and reagents across Africa as cases steadily rise.
“This challenge is caused by the limited availability of test kits globally,” the health ministry said in a statement overnight, putting the backlog at 96,480 as of Monday. Priority is given to processing tests from patients admitted to hospitals and health workers, it said.
South Africa has conducted more tests for the virus than any other country in Africa — more than 655,000 — and has the most confirmed cases with 27,403.
One of the latest to die of COVID-19 in South Africa was a National Health Laboratory Services employee. “We understand this tragedy will certainly test you,” the ministry said in a message to her colleagues, adding that the government is committed to providing proper protective gear.
That, too, faces shortages across Africa. More than 3,400 health workers on the continent had been infected as of a week ago, according to the World Health Organization.
The shortages, especially in testing materials, have jolted African authorities into facing uncomfortable truths: Richer countries are elbowing them out in the race to obtain crucial supplies, and the continent relies almost entirely on imports for drugs and other medical items.
“We have to have Made in Africa products,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters Thursday. “We cannot keep importing basic things.”
He and others, including the WHO’s Ethiopian director-general, have raised the cry for fair access, including for any vaccine or treatment that emerges.