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Strategy shifts for less tests and more contact tracing

Screening and testing for the novel Covid-19 will now be more selective.
Screening and testing for the novel Covid-19 will now be more selective.
Image: AFP / MARCO LONGAR

The health department is reviewing the coronavirus mass screening and testing strategy to ease the pressure on the country's laboratories unable to cope with the volume of samples coming through daily.

This after the testing backlog at the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) reached 100,000, with people having to wait nearly two months for their results.

It receives up to 40,000 samples for testing a day from 100,000 community health workers but can only process up to 25,000 in 24 hours.

The NHLS last week told Sowetan it had reached out to the minister of health Zweli Mkhize requesting that the current strategy be revised as it was unable to cope.

The NHLS wanted the government to prioritise testing only for people who were sick, in hospital, most likely to have contracted the virus or showed visible symptoms of Covid-19.

Deputy minister of health Joe Phaahla said they had agreed more focused screening and testing was needed.

At least 15-million people had been screened by yesterday, with 850,871 tests conducted across the country.

"It was very important to do the screening. It has gone. close to 15-million people but now we acknowledge the fact that where we are now there is a lot more which needs to be focused in terms of the contacts of the positives," Phaahla said.

NHLS acting manager for laboratory services Dr Sipho Dlamini said they wanted the strategy reviewed as, currently, the identified positive cases were way too low for the number of tests that are being done, which came at a cost.

He said only in the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape where they were getting a sufficient number of positive cases per tests, between 18% and 20%, as opposed to everywhere else where it drops to below 1%.

Phaahla said proactively searching for the virus had helped identify hotspots and how the coronavirus behaved in dense communities.

He said they could not only rely on the data from people voluntarily going to doctors once they feel sick.

He said they would now send community health workers to hotspots or areas where there are Covid-19 infection scares.

"I think it was a correct strategy in the sense that what we said to ourselves was that it's very difficult to gauge the extent of the pandemic in communities.

".it's given us a very clear picture of where the virus is and without a lot of anxiety we can now progressively move into a focus where we say there's been 16 positives in Bojanala district, let's follow them."

Phaahla said this, however, did not mean healthcare workers deployed in communities had to down tools. He said work already in progress had to be completed, including the backlog of tests at the NHLS.

"It's always good when you had been tested to get your results but to move less and less into that mode," Phaahla said.

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