By SIFISO DLAMINI | 2020-10-07
Ministry of health Principal Secretary Dr Simon Zwane has revealed that they have a shortage of COVID-19 test kits to cater for external travel as borders gradually reopen.
With countries gradually relaxing the restrictive measures, particularly external travel amid the ongoing pandemic, Eswatini government is faced with a challenge as only 4 500 test kits are available.
During the Parliament COVID-19 Portfolio Committee workshop held at the Happy Valley Hotel in Ezulwini on Monday, Dr Zwane revealed that the tests kits were not enough.
He said the challenge with managing travel was that some of the travellers were not doing so for leisure but for business such as hawkers.
“During the lockdown period, people did travel between borders including the doctors who were brought in to assist in the response against the virus,” he said. He acknowledged that the ministry of commerce industry and trade was responsible for essential travellers as there was a weaver permitting their travel.
Dr. Zwane stated that there was an agreement with neighbouring countries that the agreement would still stand while negotiations were still ongoing.
He said for hawkers, they were also requested to receive a letter from the ministry of commerce industry and trade to be used during travel.
They would also be exempt from the requirement of a PCR test.
“However, we are still negotiating on how this could be handled moving forward,” he said.
Dr. Zwane acknowledged that the E850 fee for conducting the PCR test was expensive. He also said even if they were tested for free, by government, it was also steep because government would have to put aside the ongoing response oriented testing and prioritise the hawkers.
This could lead to issues with the turnaround time.
He insisted that the available tests were prioritised for the response testing. He said as much as they were aware about the inconvenience as they continued with the response to the pandemic, there were modifications as there were new things discovered along the way. At the beginning of the pandemic, they did conduct rapid contact cases testing and the guidelines were changed where only those with symptoms were tested. Dr. Zwane said there were a number of challenges informing them which included the availability of the test kits as well as the turnaround time.
“The critical thing to do in response to COVID-19 is the testing,” he said.
He said they were currently evaluating antigen rapid tests which produced results between 15 to 30 minutes of conducting the tests.
He said they were still evaluating the tests and currently the test kits were not enough as there were only 12 000 units.
These tests would go a long way in targeting the red zone areas such as Ngwane Park in Manzini which is still leading in the number of confirmed cases followed by Nkoyoyo in Mbabane.
He said these test kits would assist with the instant testing of possible contact cases as the results were imminent.
He said the rapid antigen tests were a game changer compared to the currently used tests which yielded results in two days. He said once there was a better and quicker test kits, they would resume testing contact cases.
Zwane said with regards to external travel, there were challenges faced by government as a result of shortage of test kits.
Even if the neigbouring countries have opened their borders, it did not mean that the pandemic was over.
“It does not change the fact that while travelling across borders, people could still get infected and come back and spread the virus locally,” he said.
As the health sector, they advised that while the conditions were relaxed, it was important to prioritise health.
This was the reason for the emphasis in using the tried and tested PCR testing kits testing.
The PCR test checks for the presence of the virus in your system. It is most appropriate during the earliest stages of exposure to the virus, approximately 1-11 days, and should be undertaken when someone suspects they have COVID-19, or if they believe they have been recently exposed to it.
“The test can detect COVID-19 even if the individual is asymptomatic.
If you are travelling abroad, we provide COVID-19 travel certificates, which can be used to prove a negative result required by certain countries to gain entry or avoid the need to quarantine,” Dr. Zwane said.
With regards to the availability of enough ventilators to cater for a possible second wave of infections, Dr Zwane said the Mbabane Government Hospital and RFM did have ventilators but as a ministry they decided against using them for COVID-19 patients.
He said there were five ventilators in Mbabane and seven at RFM which have been reserved for non- COVID-19 ailments and patients such as accident victims that were not infected with the virus.
He further confirmed that government purchased 43 ventilators which were distributed in the health centres around the country.
“A majority of the ventilators are at the Lubombo Referral Hospital but some of them were distributed to the other government hospitals to bring the service closer to the patients,” he said.
He clarified that he did not mean they were enough as a sudden increase in the number of cases and about 100 patients needed the ventilators, they would not be enough.
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