Uganda detecting only 10-15% of COVID-19 cases – Health officials

FILE PHOTO: A Kenyan ministry of health medical worker takes a swab from a truck driver during a testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Namanga one stop border crossing point between Kenya and Tanzania, in Namanga, Kenya May 12, 2020. COURTESY PHOTO/REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Only 10 to 15  per cent of COVID-19 infections are currently being detected in the country according to Ministry of Health officials.

At the moment, 4,000 samples are tested on average every day. However, health experts say this figure does not represent the actual number of infected persons in the country.

Data from the ministry shows that to date, over 647,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported. Analysis based on explanation by health experts shows that between 5.1 and 5.4 million cases have gone undetected.

Dr Monica Musenero, a senior presidential advisor on epidemics, says the figures being released by the Health ministry are an indication of where infections are but not the number of people who are infected.

“Our test results are not bringing out the cases, they are not an estimate of the number of cases…It is simply an indicator of where the virus is because we’re capturing about 10-15% of the cases. We’re not testing people who don’t have symptoms or those who have mild symptoms. A lot of people who are in hospitals possibly have COVID-19. So what we have now is just an indicator. It doesn’t tell you the number of cases in the country,” says Musenero. 

It is estimated that the disease has spread to 137 districts. With the widespread infections, Musenero says that at least 20,000 tests should be carried out daily. However, due to a lack of funds, these cannot be carried out.

“Now when we need to test more, we don’t have the kits, we don’t have the money to conduct the testing yet at this point in time each day we should be testing 20,000-30,000 [every day] for us to be able to understand fully where the disease is and control it, but we’re not providing because it is so so so expensive and we don’t have these things here,” added Musenero. 

She further says that due to the low number of detected infections, even the number of people succumbing to the disease might be higher than what is reported.

“Forget about these official numbers we give out. There is so much death and I know it. COVID-19 is contributing to a huge number of deaths in the country. There are many people with COVID-19 because, you know, COVID-19 takes people who are sick first. There are those who will die first from COVID-19 but there are a lot of people in this country – they have something [disease]; they have hypertension, they have diabetes and they were going to live for 20-30 years more.

They were going to live with their [underlying] disease but COVID-19 is coming and taking them. Many people go to hospital and they will just know it’s the blood pressure I had, it is diabetes, me I have always had diabetes or I was on treatment for cancer,” said Dr Musenero. 

Dr Charles Olaro, the director of curative services at the Health ministry, says they are not carrying out wide testing due to the expense associated with testing. He says they cannot trace contacts of alerts that present at health centres.

“All need to be cautious now. Wear a mask and treat everyone like a potential positive COVID-19 case because the disease is everywhere now. There’s no safe place,” he says.

Daily COVID-19 record high

Uganda on Tuesday 8th recorded its highest cases of COVID-19 after 701 people tested positive for the disease. 

The cases were part of 5,578 samples that were tested on Monday 7th, December 2020. According to the ministry of Health, the highest numbers of reported cases were from Kampala with 290 positives detected, followed by Wakiso with 74 cases.

Most of the reported cases were from the western part of the country. This brings the cumulative number of cases that have been reported in the country to 23,200.

One death was also registered on Monday, bringing the number of cumulative total deaths to 207. Monday’s all-time high figure brings the number of reported cases last week to 2,165. This is the highest number of positive cases that the country has reported in a week to date.

Read Also: African countries not prepared for COVID-19 vaccine – WHO

Due to the on-going political campaigns, Musenero says the country should expect the rate of infection to increase.

“Some parts of the country have not been reporting cases, but this is going to change. People from Kampala and other parts of the country are going to carry the virus to villages and small towns during these campaigns,” she said.