Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Botswana fails epidemiology test on Covid-19 local transmission

The COVID-19 Presidential Task Force and the Ministry of Health sloppiness in conducting testing on samples collected during a random community testing of more than 6000 people in Mogoditshane has raised alarm this may have led to a spike in local transmissions.

While details are sketchy as to why there was a delay in conducting tests on specimen samples from the random community tests in Mogoditshane, clues are beginning to emerge showing what could have led to Botswana recording a spike in local transmission, Sunday Standard can reveal.

The random community testing which was conducted in June was necessitated by reports from neighbouring Zimbabwe showing that some returnees to that country from Mogoditshane had tested positive after they were tested in their country. The Zimbabwe nationals who had been staying in Mogoditshane and tested positive were four.

Since then the number of local cases has been accelerating undetected and even spread from Gaborone to other parts of the country insiders said.

There are claims that had testing been done at a reasonable time, the country could have contained the pandemic because it is still yet unknown how long the virus can survive in samples.

It is also understood that apart from reports that there had been a delay in conducting tests on the collected samples the Task Force and the Ministry officials are yet to share their findings with the nation or even respondents.

“There was a lapse when the samples were not conducted because the virus started circulating in Gaborone and even across the county,” a source said.

While the COVID-19 Presidential Task Force and the Ministry officials are mum on what could have led to a spike in local transmission, information obtained by Sunday Standard shows that Botswana has been sitting on a ticking time bomb.

It is understood that local transmission rose at the time when reports emerged that samples collected during the community testing in Mogoditshane took more than a month to be despite reports showing that some Zimbabweans tested positive upon return to their country of origin tracing pointed to Mogoditshane.

COVID-19 Communications Committee member, Kago Mmopi had initially promised that the President COVID-19 Task Force would respond to Sunday Standard’s questionnaire but later backtracked and referred this publication to Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Dr. Mareko Ramotsababa.

Immediate comment from Ramatsababa was not available as his mobile phone rang unanswered. He had also not responded to the questionnaire forwarded to his email address at the time of going to press.

Sunday Standard investigations have also turned up information showing that respondents from at least 1600 households who had participated in the random community testing are yet to be furnished with their results.

Prior to carrying out the random community testing, the Ministry’s Public Health Specialist Dr. Labapotswe Tlale told the nation during a televised briefing that Mogoditshane was identified as a high-risk area. The expectation was that the Ministry should have shared the results with the respondents within three days.

“Who knows maybe after conducting tests on the samples, the virus was no longer viable because it is still unclear as to how long it can survive,” a source said.

Sunday Standard had sought to establish among others why those who were tested for COVID-19 during the random community testing in that area did not receive their results, why there was a delaying in testing the samples, what the status of the results was and establish if it was true that portion of the samples were later conducted at a laboratory in Palapye after more than a month.

This publication also sought to confirm claims that the Presidential Task Force was caught off-guard after it shifted focus to testing drivers at points of entry and took a long period of time to conduct testing from samples collected from community testing in Mogoditshane and whether the increase in local transmission could be attributed to failure to conduct tests on time from those samples.

Sunday Standard also wanted to know if is it true that the Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital is overwhelmed because of the number of patients admitted there and what is its capacity as well as the number of patients admitted there.

Meanwhile a memo purported to be from Princess Marina Hospital Superintendent Dr. Tshepho Machaha addressed to staff on Friday states that 16 staff members and 15 patients tested positive for COVID-19.

The memo says the patients are currently admitted at Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital adding that “the rate of infection at the medical wards is alarming therefore we kindly encouraged proper us of PPE(Personal Protective Equipment).” 

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