By Ken Awuondo
African Regional Manager, The Global Health Network
Testing capacity for COVID-19 is the key to controlling Coronavirus. Robust Coronavirus testing provides a snapshot of the COVID-19 situation within the community and indeed, without testing, contact tracing becomes a mirage.
At the onset of the outbreak in January 2020, only two African countries (South Africa and Senegal) had the capacity to perform COVID-19 testing, but within two months a total of forty-four African countries could comfortably track, test and isolate COVID-19 cases. This was a tremendous achievement coordinated by WHO Afro, Africa CDC, and World Food Program. They provided diagnostic equipment, reagent supplies and training to the personnel.

During the initial stages of the outbreak, many countries in Africa were conducting COVID-19 testing by targeting individuals with symptoms of COVID-19, particularly those arriving or returning from abroad. However, as the outbreak gained ground within communities, the need for mass testing intensified. Certain countries conducted mass testing successfully while others have encountered enormous challenges, ranging from limited access to resources and logistical issues to social considerations such as distrust, fear, and stigmatization. In a region with fragile health systems, the cost per test went up as high as USD 100. Increasing affordable testing capacity is paramount if African countries are to maintain a reduction in the number of cases. 

NEW: Laboratories in Africa

  • Technical guidance on laboratory operations for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing in the WHO African region
    English [pdf] | French [pdf] | Portuguese [pdf]

NEW: COVID-19 Rapid Diagnostic tests in Africa

Testing has become central to the COVID-19 response and fundamental to worldwide health security. Without testing, ‘we will be fighting this blindly’ stated Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC. However, especially in LMICs, access to diagnostics remains the weakest link in the chain of clinical care and response to COVID-19. Accurate and reliable tests became available within one month of the outbreak of COVID-19, but these tests depend on skilled clinicians and expensive laboratory infrastructure. This creates a huge gap between taking the test and the results, often taking several days to come back even in high-income countries.

Africa CDC and FIND have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to drive access to essential diagnostics across Africa. This collaboration aims to build capacity for the development and implementation of high-quality antigen rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for COVID-19 in Africa increasing dramatically testing across the region. According to Dr Catharina Boehme, the CEO of FIND, affordable, accurate antigen RDTs will take the COVID-19 response to the next level.

FIND hopes to facilitate the supply of 500 million tests to LMICs within 12 months, and the Memorandum of Understanding will last between Africa CDC and FIND for a period of 3 years.

COVID-19 Courses and Training

The African Sc

COVID-19 testing in Africa: Lessons Learnt

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) has been on the front line of the response. ASLM has convened 19 special COVID-19 webinars as part of its Laboratory System Strengthening Community of Practice (LabCoP), reaching out to 12,777 participants from 106 countries around the world. The virtual meetings have gathered healthcare workers, policy makers, scientists, stakeholders and diagnostics manufacturers to exchange and discuss latest developments and best practices relevant to COVID-19 testing on the continent.

Slides, videos, guidance and Question & Answers of these sessions can be accessed here. ASLM also proudly assists Africa CDC in implementing COVID-19 diagnostics in African Union member states, as part of the Joint continental strategy for COVID-19 outbreak and through the mandate of the African Task Force for Coronavirus Response (AFTCOR).

ASLM have also conducted E-learning courses on how to manage COVID-19 Diagnostics and Treatment.

In a new article published in Lancet, ASLM shares the lessons learnt so far from COVID-19 testing in Africa, and we provide recommendations to support the scale-up of COVID-19 testing in medical laboratory networks throughout Africa. Read the article here.

COVID-19 ECHO Sessions
Watch COVID-19 ECHO sessions about diagnostics and testing, download the session presentations, and read the session Q&As. New sessions are added weekly.

COVID-19 Diagnostics Course
Enroll in the free COVID-19 Diagnostics Training MOOC course co-sponsored by ASLM, FIND and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Guidance on Quality Assurance for COVID-19 Molecular Laboratory Testing from ASLM


Published Literature and Articles

Access to lifesaving medical resources for African countries: COVID-19 testing and response, ethics, and politics - The Lancet

COVID-19: Are Africa’s diagnostic challenges blunting response effectiveness? - AAS Open Research

Keeping COVID-19 at bay in Africa - The Lancet, Respiratory Medicine

Let Africa into the market for COVID-19 diagnostics - Nature


Key research organisation contacts:

The following is a list of contacts within African organisations, including the WHO Africa, CDC Africa and EDCTP Centres of Excellence who are preparing to deal with this response. You can find more information also via the partner links listed in the right hand navigation. 

Africa-CDC   |   African Society for Laboratory Medicine   |   WANETAM NoE   |   CANTAM NoE   |   EACCR NoE   |   TESA NoE   |   ALERRT   |   PANDORA   |   WHO AFRO

If you have anything to add or suggestions on what would be useful please get in touch: