Covid-19: Africa needs testing kits

Tuesday March 24 2020

Barely five days ago, a renowned Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma, made a pledge saying: “To each of the 54 African countries, we will donate 20,000 test kits, 100,000 masks and 1,000 medical use protective suits and face shields.”

I have just seen reports on several African news outlets around the continent saying these much needed donations have started arriving in several African countries today. I thank Mr Jack Ma for this extremely significant gesture.

He also announced “We will donate emergency supplies (1.8 million masks, 210K test kits, 36K protective suits, plus ventilators and thermometers) to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan & Sri Lanka. Delivering fast is not easy, but we’ll get it done!”

While other rich businessmen are taking advantage of the situation by hiking prices of essential goods, here is a business leader showing the right example. Systematic rapid testing across the continent is the best way to detect the disease early and to contain its spread. Now we are going to have a clearer picture of the true scale of the pandemic in Africa.

I understand that ventilators are one of the only ways currently available to manage people infected by Covid-19. However, this great donation should not make anyone or any African government to relax.

We can and should procure more test kits ourselves so as to cover our respective populations entirely. Remember that the most important World Health Organisation recommendation on the coronavirus is “testing, testing, testing.”


There are now more options for test kits. A South Korean biotech lab company called Seegene is one of the first in the world to design a Covid-19 field test kit, which is already in production and distribution. It is amazing that they achieved this exclusively using mainly Artificial Intelligence technology (AI) and without any live sample of the coronavirus.

In fact, in a Bloomberg news article, they say they only knew that their test kit worked after presenting it to their government for approval and the government tested it on coronavirus patients and found that it detected the virus perfectly.

Today, there are news reports that South Korea has a further four companies that are manufacturing quick portable test kits for testing coronavirus.

Meanwhile, social distancing and staying at home are not easy behaviours in Africa. Many people need to go out and earn what they will eat that day. That is the nature of a largely informal economy.

If we really can’t stay home, then at least distance yourself at least 1 metre between you and everyone. A behaviour best learnt early now and in the easy way, rather than having grimmer circumstances force us to learn it the hard way later.