Covid-19 test kits shortage hits Uganda

indafrica May 14, 2020
Updated 2020/05/14 at 8:17 AM

Even as new and faster tests become available, the country faces a deadlock in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic after officials at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) confirmed shortage of essential testing kits for virus.

The government has blamed the shortage of Covid-19 testing kits on increased number of truck drivers and limited supply from foreign manufacturers, as well as delays in cargo movement.

Dr Julius Lutwama, the UVRI deputy director, told Daily Monitor yesterday that they had no single testing kit left in their store and they are now relying on borrowed kits from Makerere University hospital.

The University hospital last month received a donation of 40,000 test kits from Case Western Reserve University in the United States.

Dr Lutwama said the specific components they are lacking in the testing kits are the probes and primers.

“The kits are made up of RNA/DNA extraction, the master mix, probes and primers,” he explained.
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a self-replicating material which is present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a nucleic acid present in all living cells. Its principal role is to act as a messenger carrying instructions from DNA for controlling the synthesis of proteins, although in some viruses RNA rather than DNA carries the genetic information.

The probes and primers are used to determine whether the sample actually has the coronavirus being sought. A sample often has a number of other viruses.

Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the UVRI director, however, disclosed, without providing specifics, that the government had placed an order for the kits and that they would reach here soon.

The only institute mandated to test Covid-19 has so far tested more than 58,000 samples.

Although the UVRI boss didn’t specify the particular components of the kits that are depleted, others sources in the Health ministry talked of wasting kits on Ugandans with different ailments and the lockdown in China and other countries.

“Globally, people are having this challenge. The biggest problem is transportation,” Prof Kaleebu explained.

The UVRI boss, however, said they have come up with innovative approaches to make the work continue as they wait for supplies.
“We are also working as a team with other laboratories such as Makerere University. So we ask for reagents from our partners,” he said.

Prof Kaleebu said they have also made orders for supplies from different countries to cast their nets wider and limit frustrations that come with depending on few manufacturers.

Just like other countries in the world, Uganda is considering the use of rapid diagnostic kits, which are cheaper and more available than the current kits that use PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) machine.

“The shortage of reagents worry our response towards the disease. In future, we are looking at rapid diagnostic kits to replace the PCR machines,” Prof Kaleebu said.
Prof Kaleebu, however, warned that the few rapid test kits they got for evaluation have not shown the required accuracy in testing.

Prof Kaleebu said a number of their testing kits were obtained from foreign partners and donations, including the Jack Ma Foundation and Medical Research Council.

Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, the minister of State for Primary Healthcare, blamed the shortage on enormous pressure the ministry has found itself in by testing all incoming truck drivers.

Dr Kaducu, however, reiterated that the government, together with UVRI, had made orders and that the kits were in transit and that in a week’s time, the consignment will have arrived.

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