The Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) has recommended the mass testing of people for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as the surest way to pick out possible cases early.
To be able to do that effectively, the institute, which is at the forefront of testing for the COVID-19, called for a lockdown on human movement as a proactive solution to the escalation of the community spread of the COVID-19.
Consequently, it called for a total shutdown of the biggest public bus system in the country, “trotro”, as a critical measure because that system was a major conduit for accelerating the community spread, as it was difficult to
even reduce numbers on board the buses for social (physical) distancing.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic in an exclusive interview, the Director of the NMIMR, Professor Abraham Annan, said such measures were necessary to avoid contact between those who had been exposed and those who were naive to the virus, so that they could be separated through mass testing to achieve the appropriate outcomes.
When asked if Ghana had reached the stage for a human lockdown to stop a community spread, he said: “In a way, if we are very proactive, then it is yes. But we seem to be a bit more careful and watchful, other than that it is the way to go now.”
“When it comes to the unfolding situations, we may have to increase testing, so that we can understand the situation among the public to inform national decisions on who to quarantine and so forth,” Prof. Annan noted.
He added that sometimes there could even be some sections of the population that had not been exposed to the virus which could be locked down to protect them, saying sections which were dangerously exposed, with high level of infections, could also be locked down to protect those not exposed.
“And, then, in such a situation, one can use testing to pick positives as early as possible, so that they are quarantined. It is important that we do that,” he said.
Mass testing capacity
Prof. Annan said the country could also expand its capacity to meet the demands of mass testing, taking into consideration the type of testing methods adopted.
He said the two leading institutions with the capacity to test for the COVID-19, the NMIMR and the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research into Tropical Medicine (KCCR), were using top-level testing, which was actually confirmatory tests, without screening.
He said since confirmatory testing cost about $10 dollars or more per test, it would be advisable to adopt the rapid testing kit system, which would cost up to $6.
“So what we need to do is very cleverly and strategically adopt some of the rapid testing for mass screening,” he said.
Prof. Annan explained that the NMIMR alone had the capacity to conduct 1,000 confirmatory tests a day and, therefore, with the KCCR's capacity, which is currently unknown, on board, Ghana should be able to do mass testing within an appreciably short period.
“We can also expand the testing capacity, but can only do that on purpose, with the government’s involvement, because we would need to buy some more reagents and testing kits, which requires a lot of money,” he said.
He said so far the government had been very forthcoming and positive in its posture to end further importation and community spread of the COVID-19 and was ready to release money for necessary actions.
As of yesterday, the country had tested 315 cases, out of which 27 had been confirmed as positive for the COVID-19, with two passing on.
Four of the cases were acquired locally, while the 20 were imported cases.
Seventeen of the people infected are Ghanaians, while the remaining seven are from Norway, Lebanon, China, France and the UK.
A total of 575 contacts had been traced as of yesterday, and only one had developed symptoms and tested positive for the disease.
All the remaining 23 are responding to treatment in isolation centres, with eight of them being attended to in their homes.