Analysis

Govt moots mass Covid-19 testing amidst complaints of lost test swabs, ‘fake’ official statistics

: A health worker dressed collects swab samples from a truck driver to be tested for coronavirus at the Elegu border point (PHOTO /Courtesy)

KAMPALA — The government of Uganda is in final stages of rolling out mass Covid-19 testing, the authoritative online website PML Daily has reported.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Covid-19 Task Force, recently enlisted by President Yoweri Museveni has recommended the mass testing as a way to mitigate the fast spreading pandemic that is ravaging the country. A source close to the task force, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak for the government, stated that the announcement of the mass testing would be announced soon.

The move comes in the wake of government efforts to establish the exact numbers of infected Ugandans in order to devise the best way to mitigate the spread. The Health ministry has in the last few days come under intense criticism for the statistics it has been releasing to the public. Earlier on Monday June 14, the Ministry was forced to release a statement explaining the disparity in numbers.

In a statement released Sunday, Dr Charles Olaro, on behalf of the director general health services, said accurate reporting on clinical outcomes requires thorough due diligence to avoid misrepresentation and misclarification.

“The process of doing this, whereas should be in real time, most time is not achieved. This, at times causes delays in reporting,” he said.

According to him, Covid-19 diagnosis is done using Polymerase Chain reaction (PCR), and antigen (Rapid Diagnostic Tests) RDTs.

“However, given different biological processes, timings, techniques, storage and transportation of Covid-19 sample, including when the suspected patient accesses the health facility and is instituted in care, the presence of virus may not be detected as the time (by PCR and Antigen RDTs AgRDTs),” Dr Olaro explained.

The disparities also come on the backdrop of several complaints of misplaced records at government testing centres. On June 4, several Members of Parliament were forced to stay away from attending the State of the Nation Address at Kololo. Information reaching us is that the MPs did not receive their Covid-19 test results, a prerequisite for anyone to attend a function presided over by President Museveni.

Kasambya County MP, and NRM stalwart, David Kabanda took to his Twitter handle stating: “The doctor at Parliament has just communicated that information from the lab at Butabika is that they were overwhelmed and some tests were not done.” The outspoken MP confirmed information from our source about the inability of testing labs to handle the numbers. “This means we cannot access Kololo. If you see empty chairs, don’t say we boycotted,” his tweet further reads.

A doctor at one of the government testing labs told us that at least 2 of every 20 swabs received at the lab ended up lost and the results untraceable. In the week before the State of the Nation Address, a number of journalists took tests in order to cover the NRM party MP’s Caucus meeting at Kololo, the journalists complained that their results were never returned despite several inquiries from officials.

Appearing on NBS TV morning talk show on Monday morning, opposition leader, Dr Kiiza Besigye, who is a medical doctor referred to the government statistics being published and used as the official figures of infected Ugandans as a joke. Dr Besigye said the country cannot rely on figures recorded out of a very small number of people that have tested. He stated that more test needed to be carried out in order to establish the magnitude of the pandemic in the country currently.

Since last week media has been awash with disputed figures of people that have died from the virus. Health officials explained last week that many facilities are not reporting the numbers of people who passed on from Covid-related causes.

Meanwhile a health worker at a private clinic in Ntinda told this website that they had started carrying out Antigen tests but they were overwhelmed by the number of the people that tested positive that they had to stop.

Our efforts to get a comment from the line ministry of Health were futile by the time of publishing this story.

The ministry publicist Emmanuel Ayinebyoona promised to inquire and get back to us when we asked whether the government was rolling out the mass tests.

He also had not responded to our inquiries on the crisis on records getting lost at testing centres.

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