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How effective are Covid-19 testing kits?

As the global pandemic worsens by the day with numbers of confirmed globally cases, politicians, religious leaders and people of influence from around the world have proposed unscientific methods to tackle its spread.

In India, for example, politicians have been touting cow urine as a cure for Covid-19. In Tanzania, President John Magufuli promised that taking holy communion in church would “burn” the virus. In Brazil, a congressman claimed a day of fasting would halt its spread while in Congo-Brazzaville’s president has promised to import an extract from the artemisia plant – the source of an ingredient used in malaria treatment.

While these bizarre ideas circulate, there is a new trend of criticism that is slowly kicking in, that of the testing kits. On May 3, Tanzanian President Magufuli in a video shared on social media platforms raised concern on the kits. He says they took a sample from a pawpaw tree and sent it for testing to the National Referral Laboratory. The sample, he claimed, tested positive. Link to the video:

Al Jazeera online ran a story on the test kits procured from China by India- India’s criticism of coronavirus test kits ‘irresponsible’. The report indicates that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the top agency dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, was planning to return the kits for antibody tests procured from two Chinese firms because of poor accuracy. China on its part has criticised India’s decision to stop using Chinese testing kits for coronavirus because of quality issues as unfair and irresponsible. India would later stop using the test kits.

On April 16, the New York Times had the story, U.K. Paid $20 Million for New Coronavirus Tests. They Didn’t Work. The piece notes that the test kits were found to be inaccurate by a laboratory at Oxford University, half a million of the tests are now gathering dust in storage. Another 1.5 million bought at a similar price from other sources have also gone unused. The fiasco has left embarrassed British officials scrambling to get back at least some of the money.

Earlier in March, Spain stopped using the test kits due to increase in inaccuracies: Coronavirus test kits withdrawn in Spain over poor accuracy rate. Spain, like many other countries struggling to diagnose and treat the virus, looked to China for rapid testing kits equipment and much-needed supplies. They would later abandon using the kits.

The above examples have elicited debate in different circles on the authenticity of the test kits being used during the pandemic. It is our hope that media houses will not only report on the number of new infections, death toll and those recovered but also will go deeper and ask tough questions.

The media should ask questions like which companies are manufacturing the test kits? Who are the suppliers of the kits? There is also need for the media to talk to medical research organisations who may offer insights on the efficacy of the kits before being rolled out.

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