Editor's Comment

More COVID-19 tests key

THE fight against COVID-19 is one that must be won at all costs. Looking at the levels of destruction so far, it is a battle Zambia cannot afford to fight without proper strategy and precision.
Securing accurate data on the number of cases is critical to making the right strides towards success.
Without accurate data on the number of people infected by the virus, there would be no way of understanding the extent of the pandemic. Without it Zambia cannot know whether the battle is being won or not.
At the moment it is illusionary to claim that the actual magnitude and depth of the pandemic in the country is known. This is because the testing capacity is still very low in relation to the population.
For instance, in the 24 hours preceding yesterday, the country conducted 970 tests, out of which 247 new coronavirus cases were recorded with four deaths.
From the time the pandemic broke out in March, the country has had 80,239 tests done, with 5,249 cases captured out of a population of about 17 million.
Given that COVID-19 affects everyone regardless of age, race, social status, political or religious affiliation, the number is a drop in the ocean for the over 17 million people in the country.
This certainly points to the need for Zambia to build capacity in COVID-19 testing as a starting point.
As long as the number of people tested for COVID-19 remains low, Zambia will never know the actual situation in a society that has thousands of people still ignoring health advice on keeping the disease at bay.
It is highly likely that Zambia could be deep in deception thinking it is better than other countries that have recorded
higher numbers.
Actually, thinking of it critically, it is more frightening because there is a possibility that the country is sitting on a
time bomb waiting to explode.
As long as there is no accurate data on the actual prevailing situation, whatever is done on that basis is a just a gamble.
It is therefore good news to hear that Government is targeting to test about 5,000 people a day. Not enough, but
certainly a good improvement.
It is of great importance to ensure that as many people as possible are tested to get the right picture of how
widespread the pandemic is and provide appropriate strategies.
It is also important to ensure that tests are done in all parts of the country to get a true and balanced picture on the situation at national level. Needless to say, 5,000 tests in a day should not be the ultimate. The quest for even more resources should continue so that more people in Zambia are tested.
Besides tests, there is also need to continue building capacity for handling the disease. It would not make logical
sense to test so many people and yet fail to provide the necessary health care for those that test positive.
This calls for increased capacity of health personnel and for health facilities to handle any possible upsurge of cases.
There is need to increase the number of bed spaces. This is much more important because the nature of the
disease requires social distancing.
There is also need to invest more in medical equipment such as ventilators to cater for more cases. The country
could run into a crisis if it is poorly prepared.
Already, most people with mild symptoms or those that have been in contact with actual patients are
told to quarantine at home. Early cases showed that adherence to home isolation is largely poor. The more cases Zambia has, the more likely it is that carriers of the virus will be roaming the communities.
It is commendable that right from start, Government started preparing for the worst-case scenario. Isolation centres were opened, more medical staff were recruited, equipment was bought and received from donors, and sensitisation campaigns were upped.
At that time, three months or so ago, it looked like the efforts were exaggerated. It looked like the disease
was too remote for Zambia to worry so much about.
Time and reality has, however, caught up with Zambia. The disease is virtually all over the country.
Efforts made so far to curb the spread of the disease are evidently insufficient.
More staff must be employed. More resources and commitment must be put in this fight.
The bottom line, however, is that all these efforts will come to nothing if members of the public don’t play their
part of doing what medical experts are advising.
Members of the public have an obligation to protect themselves from getting infected and spreading the disease further by observing the health regulations of masking up, social distancing and hand sanitising.
Even when capacity to test is increased, it takes the members of the public to be proactive in taking tests.
Going by the number of lives affected and the havoc COVID-19 continues to cause on all aspects of human life, only a collective effort will bring down this invisible enemy.

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