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Home / Health & Science

‘No signs of Covid’ in East Africa before March 2020

By MACTILDA MBENYWE | Mon,Nov 15 2021 00:00:00 EAT


Man using a mobile phone with coronavirus tracking app installed on it. [Getty Images]

New findings indicate there might not have been any Covid-19 in any country in East Africa before the first case was reported in March last year.

Frozen nasal and throat swabs taken from patients who presented Severe Acute Respiratory Infections (SARI) between November 1, 2019 and February 29, 2020 in Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda were retested through Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), the standard method for detection of the virus.

Covid 19 Time Series


The results showed “none of the more than 1,000 samples tested positive for Covid-19,” according to Novat Twungubumwe, that acting East African Health Research Commission (EAHRC) Executive Secretary.

"This is a strong indication that Covid-19 was not in the region before the first cases were reported in March 2020” but that “the sample size is too small to prove the absence of Covid-19 in the region with absolute certainty,” said Dr Twungubumwe.

Again, samples were only from four of six East African states.   

The study was aimed at verifying if Covid-19 infections had already occurred in the region before the first cases in Africa were reported by World Health Organisation (WHO) in February last year.

Some East African countries experienced higher than usual numbers of severe respiratory infections with persistent cough, fever and sometimes pneumonia during the period.

The patients were not tested or diagnosed for Covid-19 as test kits were also not available at the time.

The symptoms might have been related to influenza, but it could not be disregarded that this SARI might have been caused by the Covid-19 causing virus.  

The study design had two phases: retesting in RT-PCR of swab samples from patients while the second would have been testing for antibodies in cases of positive test results.

Because all the samples were negative, the study did not progress to the second phase.

The EAC Secretariat, through EAHRC and Partner States’ National Public Health Reference Laboratories, implemented the study.   

So far, more than 239,692 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Kenya since the first case was reported in 2020.?

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