Concerns have been raised about the long time it is now taking to release coronavirus test results, considering the increasing risk of spreading the virus.
From a turnaround of 24 hours when the virus first struck in Kenya in March, it is now taking more than seven days to get results. Meanwhile, those tested go on with their lives and may infect others.
The lack of testing kits, staff and closure of testing centres has exacerbated the situation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that testing is the first key step to stemming the spread of the virus.
The government is facing a crisis over a shortage of testing kits and reagents at a time when the numbers of positive cases are rising.
Kenya recorded the highest number of Covid-19 infections on Saturday, when Health minister Mutahi Kagwe announced 688 infections in a single day.
Only 4,522 samples were tested, he said, and reported that the number of infections since Kenya’s first case in March had increased to 12,750.
By Friday, only 233,641 people had been tested against a target of one million. The situation has been worsened by the closure of testing centres.
The Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and Kenyatta National Hospital’s Infectious Diseases Unit at Mbagathi are no longer testing the public, an issue that has left many with no idea of where they can get tested.
Dr Mamo Umuro, head of National Public Health Laboratory, said they do not serve walk-in patients but instead send rapid response teams to people in quarantine and those identified as contacts of those who have the coronavirus.
“We also sent the response teams to organisations that have requested testing of their employees,” he said.
Dr Simon Kigondu, a gynaecologist in Murang’ a County who is the secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Association, said that since the labs stopped testing, most Kenyans do not know where to get tested.
“The cornerstone of our response to Covid-19 has always been testing capacity and it’s hard for Kenyans to access these testing sites now,” said Dr Kigondu.
Kenya now has 20 operational laboratories approved by the Kenya Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists Board.
The labs include Kemri Wellcome Trust Kilifi, Kemri Kisumu, the parastatal’s Nairobi labs in its HIV lab, Centres for Disease Control ane its headquarters and Aga Khan University Hospital.
Others are Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi Hospital, Walter Reed in Kericho, Lancet, Coast General Hospital, and the National Public Health Laboratories Services.
But even with 20 laboratories testing for coronavirus, Kenya has not kept up pace with other countries. Notably, South Africa has tested 2.2million people while neighbouring Uganda as of July 14, had tested 232,608 compared with Kenya’s 230,096.
Kenya’s testing has not been consistent. For example, this week the country has tested 17,505 samples, with the highest number of tests (7,050) conducted on Sunday and the lowest, 1,205, conducted on Monday.
This means that there is a backlog of unprocessed tests, a result of the shortage caused by a worldwide race to acquire test kits.