MINISTRY of Health Permanent Secretary for technical services Dr Kennedy Malama says the shortage of COVID-19 testing reagents and consumables is a global challenge which the Zambian government is doing its best to address.

And Dr Malama has announced that the country has recorded 306 new COVID-19 cases out of the 1,243 tests conducted in various testing centres in the last 24 hours.

Speaking during the daily COVID-19 briefing at Ndeke House, Thursday, Dr Malama said government was also not happy that citizens were complaining about delays in getting test results.

“We have continued ramping up our testing, but let me mention that there has been a global challenge in testing for COVID-19 in terms of availability of reagents and equipment. The reason is simple, because all counties on earth are affected by COVID-19, including those countries which manufacture the equipment and the reagents. So we are all competing on this limited pot globally. But we would like to assure our people that the government of the Republic of Zambia is doing everything possible under the leadership of His Excellency Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu to ensure that the testing capacity in Zambia is ramped up so that we move away from where we are at the moment as at today 12 operational officially certified sites which are testing for COVID-19,” Dr Malama said.

“In Lusaka, we have the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) virology laboratory which is using three different platforms to conduct the tests. In Ndola we have the Tropical Disease Research Centre, we also have the Author Davison children’s laboratory. In Chinsali we have Chinsali General Hospital using two different types of testing platforms, Chipata at the Distrit Hospital, Choma we are using Macha Hospital. We’ve also earmarked 10 more testing sites which will include the Churches Association of Zambia Complex laboratory, Zambia Air Force Hospital laboratory, ZNS Makeni laboratory and in Solwezi we are targeting to operationalize Solwezi General Hospital laboratory; Livingstone Teaching Hospital; Lewanika General Hospital; Kabwe General Hospital, Kasama General Hospital and Mansa General Hospital.”

He assured that things would get better once government received some consumables which were procured.

“There are certain consumables we are expecting to arrive despite the challenge to get them. Once we get those, we would want minimum within 24 hours to test 5,000, our ultimate is a test of 10,000 within 24 hours once all these are running because we are not happy with our current testing levels. We are also aware that there have been complaints from members of the public that we are delaying to give results. One of the reasons is the inadequate capacity which we are working on to address. Therefore, as a country as at today, we’ve performed a total of 81,482 tests within the 12 labs. This translates into 4,425 tests done per one million populations. Which means we still have a gap which we need to narrow as we increase the investment as alluded to earlier,” Dr Malama said.

He insisted that priority in testing for COVID-19 would be given to symptomatic patients, the aged and those with underlying health conditions.

“We need to prioritise patients who are attending health care facilities because when someone gets to the hospital, it’s easy to get them, but also most likely, they are not feeling well and they may be carrying COVID. So that will be a special group for us. So, so far, it’s working well. Those who are going to our facilities are being swabbed for COVID-19 as resources permit and we shall continue improving on this. We are also giving priority to those who are symptomatic, the people showing symptoms of COVID-19. We are also prioritising contacts of positive cases who are a high risk group; number one the elderly, children and those with underlying conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, those with kidney problems, HIV and tuberculosis among others. So when we see someone with these conditions, they are a special group and we need to ensure that quickly they have access to COVID-19 testing,” he explained.

And Dr Malama said the cumulative number of cases was now 5,555.

“In the last 24 hours, Zambia recorded 306 cases of COVID-19 out of the 1,243 tests done. That gives 25 per cent positivity in the people we tested in the last 24 hours. This brings the cumulative total of COVID-19 cases in Zambia to 5,555. The 306 new cases include 122 people we identified through our health care facilities and these screenings were done in Lusaka where we picked 93, Kitwe 17, Mpika three, Ndola three, Chingola two, Kafue two, Chinsali one and Mongu one. We also picked 104 individuals whom we identified from routine community screening. In Lusaka 96, Kafue, four, Nakonde, three and Kalabo, one. In addition, we had 52 contacts to those who are already known to be COVID-19 positive and all these 52 came from within Lusaka,” Dr Malama said.

“We had 16 truck drivers in Nakonde who tested positive to COVID-19. 10 Health workers were screened in Lusaka. We also had two people who were brought in dead to the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka and on swabbing them, we picked COVID-19. As a country, we have 93 people in our health care facilities whom we are treating for COVID-19, 44 of these are currently on oxygen support and four of these are at Levy Mwanawasa isolation centre Intensive Care Unit (ICU). In the last 24 hours, we have discharged four persons from those whom we were treating in our facilities. This brings the cumulative recoveries to 3,289 since the beginning of the outbreak in the country.”

And Dr Malama said one COVID-19 related death had been recorded while 10 more were being investigated.

“We’ve registered another facility death in Levy Mwanawasa University Teaching Hospital isolation centre. The cumulative number of deaths associated with COVID-19 now stands at 149. Remember yesterday (Wednesday), we informed you that we are still classifying some deaths which had occurred. What we’ve been doing is not to rush to report on deaths, we have to investigate and when you see changes in the numbers as the days go, it’s because some of those which were being investigated and classified have been cleaned up. Let me also mention that from the investigations and classifications we’ve done, we are now at 41 COVID deaths and 98 which are associated deaths. The other 10 deaths are yet to be classified. So as at today we have 10 deaths some of which are BIDs and we are still investigating and tomorrow in the update you will be informed how we’ve classified those deaths,” said Dr Malama.