ZAMBIA Medical Association (ZMA) president Dr Crispin Moyo says there is need for government to allocate funds towards mass COVID-19 testing rather than only focusing on individuals with symptoms.

On Monday, Health Minister Sylvia Masebo announced that her Ministry would only prioritise COVID-19 testing on individuals with symptoms due to the limited availability of test kits.

But in an interview, Dr Moyo urged government to seek help from cooperating partners because increased testing was a necessity, unless the global supply of kits was low.

“Shortage in the kits can be at two levels, one that we don’t have enough money to procure and two that the supply chain globally is down. I have also noticed in the US they have also minimized the testing and I think globally because of the supply chain. If it is a global supply chain then we need to have a very clear guideline on who actually needs to be tested because we can be turning people who actually need to be tested. They go home with an illness that they thought was just a common cold, then they infect people who may be more vulnerable, those are the people who may be succumbing to the disease,” he said.

“It is also important that there is a broader stakeholder engagement and dissemination of these guidelines so that the people at community level understand that this is what they expect and then they go to the facility. So it depends on what is causing the problem if it is funding I am sure government should be able to communicate that to many funders who are in country to increase allocation so that we are able to test the people that require a test, people that may feel that they have contact with someone they suspect had COVID. We can look for funding to be able to meet the demand. In both cases we need to ensure that we engage, if it is finances we can talk to the donor community, [because] we still have cases. When you have a few cases that you are able to test, it means that there are more people that you have not tested. What we need is that everyone who is carrying the virus should be able to know so that they can protect others from catching COVID. If we are not testing them for any reason, that reason should be properly communicated.”

He said mass testing was the best way to measure whether certain interventions were helping to control the pandemic.

“For us to be able to fight the pandemic that is spreading like this, we need to test those that are carrying the virus so that they can better protect others around them. Because we will be able to know whether we are controlling the pandemic or whether it is getting worse. In any pandemic you want to test the cases so that you manage them. You want to also test the contacts because this is an airborne disease. So you want to test the contacts to ensure that they are also aware when they are positive so that they shouldn’t infect others,” said Dr Moyo.

“If the demand is high it means we still have the pandemic growing, [and] existing. We still need to be able to measure how much of this pandemic is in the community. We still need to measure how many of these people that are infected are symptomatic for us to be able to come up with interventions that will be in the public health interest.”