INSIDE THE COVID-19 MESS OF PROBABLES
Batswana were left slack-jawed after the Covid-19 Task Force put through a weekend fear that what has looked like their nation’s relative immunity from infection with Covid-19 could be over when the same crew appeared on TV to tell them it had all been a false alarm. Staff Writer KABO RAMASIA reports
Investigations by The Business Weekly & Review the eight Covid-19 results that are at the centre an imbroglio between Ministry of Health and Gaborone Private Hospital flowed from standard procedure of admitting patients at the hospital.
Emerging details of the mess that have prompted fears that Botswana's testing criteria and data collection and reporting could be full of gaps and therefore unreliable.
On Friday evening, the Covid-19 Task Force sparked a new shudder of anxiety when it announced a return to lockdown for Gaborone and Greater Gaborone, as well as a precautionary closure of GPH and a bank at Fairgrounds in Gaborone after it came to light that a cohort of eight people had tested positive at GPH and that one of them had been to the bank in question, Stanbic.
In a televised address, the Director of Health Services, Dr Malaki Tshipayagae, told the nation that four more cases had come through the country’s borders, bringing Botswana’s tally of positive Covid-19 cases to 60.
However, the government was soon beating a hasty retreat two days later by announcing a lifting of the lockdown because the astonishing GPH results, now called “probables,” had all been a false alarm. This publication has since established that all patients were admitted but did not show any symptoms when they arrived at GPH. A source at the hospital has told this publication that before being admitted or undergoing surgery, all patients are tested for Covid-19. It was after the tests were verified that 10 of 16 specimens returned negative.
The development has caused confusion among citizens who are now puzzling over the reliability of the entire approach of the government to fighting the invisible virus that can be dicey even for better-equipped teams in more advanced countries. The uneasy confidence of Batswana in the authorities is not helped by revelations that the testing facility used by GPH, South Africa’s Lancet Laboratories, had been found wanting by the South African government before GPH engaged it. It has now emerged that GPH, inspite of its much-vaunted standards, was yet to be fumigated as at Wednesday this week.
In the aftermath of these developments, Botswana’s questionable approach could have far reaching effects on world figures because in a situational report on Tuesday, the Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, said Botswana had a total of 60 confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, although Botswana is yet to rectify its figures, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshediso Moeti, has advised countries to collect and share relevant Covid-19 data in order to ensure appropriate decision-making and policy direction.
Dr Moeti, who is a native of Botswana, has also encouraged African leaders to ramp up testing and raise their level of political will to curb the disease. "The number of testing in African countries is low because there is a scramble for test kits in the global market," she noted. "We need to invest in our systems and decentralise them. But it requires political determination."
She praised Botswana for the way it tackled HIV/AIDS at the height of the pandemic that killed millions of people the world over, by far the most in Africa, saying Botswana could tap into that experience for political will by digging into its pockets and mobilising donor funding to curb the spread of Covid-19.