25 July 2020
Freetown 25 July 2020 – The World Health Organization Country Office has secured a grant of €500,000 from the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ) through a strategic partnership to increase COVID-19 testing capacity from 500 up to 1000 tests per day in Sierra Leone.
The support will ensure the procurement of urgently needed equipment for the diagnosis and confirmation of COVID-19 in the country. WHO will facilitate timely procurement and supply of the consumables and equipment for coronavirus testing including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests which are the gold standard, viral isolation kits, and viral transport media with swabs.
“We realized that limited testing is a constraining factor, with a significantly low lab capacity in the response in Sierra Leone. We are therefore very thankful to the German government through GIZ for the support to rapidly scale up the testing capacity of COVID-19 by procurement of the much need laboratory diagnostic supplies. This support has both short and long term benefits as it will inevitably help to improve the skill sets of laboratory staff and in the long term, the diagnostic sector in general”, says Evans Liyosi, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone.
Since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Sierra Leone on 31st March 2020, more than 1,700 cases have been confirmed, with 1,292 (74%) recoveries and 66 deaths.
“We feel that our surveillance, laboratory and treatment centres have interrelated so well in this response. However, we have been quite selective with regards to testing. We have mainly tested primary contacts because of the limited availability of test kits. But today it is pleasing that what this support could procure would double what exists in country as we move towards community testing and testing in the various hotspots”, says Prof. Alpha Wurie, Minister of Health and Sanitation.
Laboratory testing allows early detection of COVID-19 cases and is critical in effective control of the spread of the disease. Approximately 16,000 tests have been conducted in Sierra Leone since the onset of the pandemic with a positivity rate of 11%. The PCR test is being done in five molecular laboratories in the country including Jui P3, Connaught National Teaching and Referral Hospital, the Central Public Health Reference Lab, 34 Military labs and Kenema Government Hospital. However, this support aims to expand the capacity of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to upgrade the laboratory infrastructure in Makeni, Bo, and Kambia.
“We are at a critical moment in the COVID-19 response. While the case numbers have drastically reduced in Germany, we can only succeed if we have a global success and that is why we are supporting the international response. On top of the global response, we are happy to collaborate with WHO to support Sierra Leone in the fight against COVID-19. We will get over this together”, says H.E Ambassador Horst Gruner, German Ambassador to Sierra Leone.
WHO is supporting the scale up of laboratory testing through the recruitment and training of 30 laboratory scientists to support COVID-19 testing in multiple laboratories including Makeni and Freetown International Airport (Lungi). WHO will also provide incentives to the recruited lab scientist for a period of 6 months. In addition, the Organization has hired two international consultants to support training and mentorship of laboratory scientists.
This support is in line with the national COVID-19 response strategic plan and seeks to fill existing gaps in availability of kits to expand testing capacity which is one of the five key national strategies to achieve the response objectives.