How robust is Botswana's COVID -19 testing programme

Some health workers believe Botswana’s Covid-19 testing strategy is not robust enough for the country’s long-term fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

How robust is Botswana's COVID -19 testing programme

Since Botswana reported its first three cases of the novel coronavirus on 30 March 2020, concerns have grown that despite limited testing capability, the country has not ramped up the testing process to be able to detect and determine the spread of the virus.

Testing is vital to determine who has the virus and that they get medical care. As at 28 April (Tuesday this week), the total number of lab tests performed stood at 6548 out of which 6525 were negative. Botswana has 23 positive cases, one death and five recoveries. 

According to health experts, this represents a small number of the population and may not depict a true reflection of the spread of the Covid-19 disease. This, they say, is because mass testing has not been rolled out, yet the country is racing against time and is fast approaching the winter season when there could be a surge in cases.

Recently, the Covid-19 Task Force somersaulted on its initial community testing programme which was to target specific major population centres around the country. The last-minute change meant that by beginning of this week (Monday), the team rolled out targeted contact tracing to track those who had been in contact with positive cases.

The shift, according to health experts, leaves gaping holes within the testing criteria as places where the virus may have spread may be overlooked when that it may have even spread to far flung places.

Earlier this month, President Mokgweetsi Masisi announced a 28-day lockdown that begun on 3 April 2020. Consequently, there was a lot of migration from Gaborone where the first cases were reported mainly to the northern part of the country as Batswana went to their home villages. To many, this is where the risk lies, should testing not be upscaled.

According to official data, Botswana is home to over 2.3 million but to-date the testing is low which presents a challenge to the government in its fight against the disease. Against this background, a surge in cases during winter could overwhelm the healthcare system and further upset response to Covid-19. In light of this, the country was advised to ramp up its testing before the winter season began in earnest this month (May).

Throughout the world countries are slowly easing lockdown restrictions for schools to reopen and people to return to their jobs. In a televised national address on Monday, President Masisi extended the lockdown. “It is important to inform you that the extended national lockdown also involves an exit plan which is based on the success we anticipate,” Masisi said.

President Masisi said the lockdown extension will be in phases, with the first phase being a week’s extension from 1 May to 7 May, Phase two starting from 8 May to 14 May. “We will lift in a phased manner,” the President noted. The third phase will be from 15 May to 22 May.