HEALTH Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya says there is an erratic supply of COVID-19 testing reagents, a situation which causes delays in releasing results for those who have gotten swabbed.

And Dr Chilufya says Zambia has recorded 153 new COVID-19 cases out of 446 tests done in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Dr Chilufya says stigma is reversing the gains in the fight against COVID-19.

Speaking during the daily COVID-19 updates, Sunday, Dr Chilufya said there was an urgent need for the country to invest in testing capacity.

When asked why there was a backlog of COVID-19 samples, Dr Chilufya said there was an erratic supply of testing reagents.

“The priority cost center in our response today is to do with diagnostic testing and there is an urgent need for us to invest in testing capacity. We need to ensure that we ride on the existing technology to expand testing in various parts of the country and erratic supplies of testing reagents, cartridges, yes, do hamper our ability to do tests in a day like I said earlier on. The government is working with its partners to ensure that we unshackle the supply chain and ease the processes of testing,” Dr Chitalu said.

“We are going to ensure that we reduce the time lag between the time you get tested and time you get the results. There are many people who get results within the same day and others within 24-48 hours and there are some who take a little longer. But we are working closely with all our partners to ensure that we streamline the processes and it will require improved resourcing for the response. So we share your concern and we are working tirelessly to ensure that we smoothen the processes of testing and results processing.”

And Dr Chilufya said four COVID-19 patients were currently on ventilators.

He said because of the rise in the number of cases, Levy Mwanawasa Facility had operationalized a new wing.

“In the last 24 hours, Zambia has recorded 153 new cases of COVID-19 out of 446 tests done. This again is a high number of cases. We have recorded no new deaths and we still have a number of ill patients in our facilities. 17 patients continue to be on oxygen support and now four are on ventilators. And we continue to provide the utmost we can under the clinical care departments at Levy Mwanawasa Facility and because of the rise in numbers we have now operationalized a new wing at Levy Mwanawasa Hospital with a 52 bed capacity. With 153 cases, Zambia now records a cumulative total of 4,481 cases with no new deaths. We remain at 139 deaths and we have 2,350 recoveries,” Dr Chilufya said.

He said it was time for members of the public to hold hands and fight the pandemic.

“There is a time that country men and women pause, hold hands and agree to fight a common enemy, today is that time. And it is critical that we realize that we face a formidable enemy in COVID-19. An enemy that is able to distort our livelihoods forever. It is important that we heed the call from His Excellency President Edgar Lungu for us to unite in purpose and fight across the political aisle, across the religious aisle and just ensure we fight COVID-19 collectively,” he said.

Dr Chilufya said there was no need to stigmatize people with COVID-19.

“There is no need to stigmatize people with COVID-19. This is a disease that any of us is at risk of getting. It is airborne. It is decent to state when you are COVID-19 positive so that the people you have interacted with would actually raise a level of alertness and probably be tested. I do not believe that any of us would like a situation where we did not disclose our COVID-19 status and then we allow someone who did not know they are interacting with a COVID-19 positive person to succumb because they had a comorbidity,” Dr Chilufya said.

“Stigma must be frowned upon. Stigma is reversing the gain we have posted in the fight against COVID-19. The people who are going public about being COVID-19 positive are responsible people and they would like to protect the people they came in contact with. If you don’t want to go public, contact the people that you had come into contact with. Even through our public health professionals we can do contact tracing. You may not be on the media but by revealing who you came in contact with through our public health professionals, we will able to find your contacts.”

Meanwhile, Dr Chilufya has called on corporate entities who made pledges towards the fight against COVID-19 to activate them.

“As I thank the cooperating partners that have worked with us, I make a clarion call to all stakeholders to unlock pledges that they made to the fight against COVID-19. We sincerely appreciate the support that is coming through and that is pledged. We request that the pledges translate into tangible support. We thank you for the support and we request that with the epidemic radically escalating, we quickly unlock all the pledged support,” said Dr Chilufya.