Lessons learnt from the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone suggest that investing in laboratory capacity will be of critical importance to help Africa cope as the virus spreads across the continent.
“We have a simple message for all countries” declared Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “Test, test, test.”
Yet, if the past two months of this pandemic has taught us anything – it is that following Tedros’ mandate is hardly straightforward, despite the economic and public health rationale of mass testing being irrefutable.
Accurate diagnosis is essential to mitigating the increasingly disastrous impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Policymakers fly blind if they don’t know who amongst the general population is sick or has previously been infected. They face unpredictable surges in cases, health workforce shortages and an interminable cycle of lockdowns and forced closures.
However, rapidly developing tests from scratch and deploying them widely demands clinical, commercial and regulatory coordination and, above all, a sufficiently-prepared and well-integrated laboratory system.
As the outbreak moves into the African continent, the question of diagnostic capacity looms large.