The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged African countries to scale up adoption of rapid diagnostic tests in order to boost the war against COVID-19 pandemic in the continent.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said the continent's ability to minimize the pandemic's toll on livelihoods and healthcare infrastructure lies in rapid testing targeting high-risk demographics.
"The widespread use of high-quality rapid testing in Africa can revolutionize the continent's response to COVID-19," Moeti said in a statement issued in Nairobi.
She said that WHO recommended antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests could be a game-changer in Africa's battle against the coronavirus amid sporadic flare-ups.
Many African countries have been grappling with COVID-19 testing bottlenecks linked to shortage of reagents, swabs, dysfunctional laboratories and personnel gaps.
Statistics from WHO indicate that only 12 countries in the continent have reached the recommended threshold of ten tests per 10,000 people per week in the last month.
According to WHO, Senegal, which is a trailblazer in diagnostics, is testing 14 times less than Netherlands while Nigeria which is Africa's largest economy is testing 11 times less than Brazil.
Moeti said that widespread use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that requires modern laboratories, expertise and reagents, has limited Africa's capacity to detect coronavirus in a larger population.
She said that rapid tests unlike PCR are user-friendly, cheaper, faster and ideal for high-risk groups like essential workers, frequent travelers and residents of urban informal settlements.
"Most African countries are focussing on testing travelers, patients or contacts, and we estimate that a significant number of cases are still missed," said Moeti.
With rapid testing, authorities can stay a step ahead of COVID-19 by scaling up active case finding in challenging environments, such as crowded urban neighborhoods and communities in the hinterland, she added.
Moeti said that rapid diagnostic tests have proved reliable to patients who are symptomatic adding that WHO and partners will deploy technical experts in Africa to support their large-scale roll-out.