Covid-19 cases have crossed the 1,000 mark, even as the government defends testing that saw Tanzanians diagnosed with the disease at the border.
The Ministry of Health yesterday maintained that the Tanzanian truck drivers who tested positive at the border were issued with genuine results, even as President John Pombe Magufuli-led government released contrary figures.
A statement from the Office of the President of Tanzania, signed by Arusha Commissioner Mrisho Gambo, claimed samples from 19 truck drivers who tested positive in Kenyan laboratories turned negative when confirmatory tests were done.
“Arusha region is confident that this is sabotage strategy designed by Kenya against our tourism industry in Arusha and Tanzania at large,” said Mr Gambo.
The Arusha Commissioner stated that a total 21 Kenyan truck drivers had tested positive for the virus in their laboratories. The samples collected on May 14 turned positive for 11 Kenyan truck drivers while those collected on May 16, turned positive for 10.
Results from samples collected on May 18 are yet to be announced.
But Health Director General Patrick Amoth while keen not to dispute the results from Tanzania said Kenya’s method of testing, using real time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), is the World Health Organisation gold standard.
He, however, noted that there was the Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDT) which might bring back a false negative or false positive.
Dr Amoth explained that while PCR detects the particular SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19, RDT only tells if someone has once in their lifetime been exposed to the coronavirus.
Detect specific proteins
“But there are many types of coronaviruses, including the one that causes common cold,” he said.
“So you could just be having a cold caused by one of these coronaviruses, but this particular test could label you are positive, and this is a false positive.”
He said RDT tests only detect the specific proteins (antibodies) produced as result of someone being exposed to the virus.
“In some people the protein is produced much later after the 14 days. So if you test someone before the proteins are produced, he or she could be positive, but because you are looking for a particular protein that has not been produced, then the test will come back as negative. This is what we call a false negative,” he explained.
He added that not every person produced sufficient antibodies after an infection, which could be detected in their blood or plasma. Some of these individuals are those malnourished, those with Tuberculosis and HIV.
“Therefore this person will test negative,” he said. “These are some of the pitfalls of using the RDT tests. So if someone is using them, there will be that variance.”
This comes as the German government released nine mobile laboratories with the capacity to test Covid-19 (and Ebola) to all the East African countries.
Kenya received two laboratories, which the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said would be stationed in Namanga on the Kenya-Tanzania border, and Naivasha, where there is a dry port.
The laboratories come with protective gear and reagents for the machines, which, combined, have a testing capacity of 2,000. “We will stand with Kenya through these difficult times,” said German Ambassador to Kenya Annett Günther. “We can only beat this pandemic if we work together," she added while handing over the equipment.
Kenya’s protocol, released by the Ministry on May 11, indicates that Kenyan truck drivers will be tested at least 48 hours before they depart for long journey and only those who test negative are allowed to proceed, having been issued with a Covid-19-free certificate.
They are again tested after every 14 days.
Extended the lockdown
“These laboratories will strengthen the testing capacity of each East Africa Community partner state,” said Mr Kagwe, as he gave an update on the Covid-19 cases in the country, where 66 more cases were reported.
The number of confirmed cases now stands at 1,029 after a total 2,621 samples, the highest done locally within 24 hours, were tested.
Mombasa and Nairobi have the bulk of the cases, with 30 and 26 respectively.
Kagwe extended the lockdown of Eastleigh and Old Town to June 6. “This is essentially to contain the spread in the areas for the next few days as we bring it under control,” he said.