Towards the end of last year, in
an effort to make Covid-19 tests more readily available, the health Ministry
allowed private laboratories to carry out tests for the virus.
has seen a wave of shoddy and even outright fraudulent tests and test kits hit the market.
As the fake test kits spread all over the country,
Uganda Virus Research Institute Executive Director, Professor Pontiano Kaleebu is calling
for tighter inspections to save the country from crooks seeking to profiteer
from SARS-CoV-2 serology tests.
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Professor Kaleebu whose Institute’s COVID-19 reference laboratory is recognized
by WHO and other global bodes says before the health ministry opened up testing
to involve the private sector, COVID-19 testing was better organised with no
Immunologists are equally worried
that the bad tests could further put more restrictions for Ugandans travelling
abroad at the time when every country insists on negative corona virus test
results at immigration.
is concern that these deceptive tests might cause unsuspecting Ugandans to
delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and
It is emerging that the fake COVID-19 tests are being issued by to
laboratories that were not accredited to carry out tests for the disease.
Many business people have taken an interest in the field, many of them not
willing to adhere to set the standards. As a result, some of the tests they
carry out use unapproved equipment whose accuracy is unknown.
The revelation comes following several reports that some travelers at Entebbe
International Airport present fake COVID-19 results.
Labor exports companies have particularly
been hit hard as they reportedly tried to “beat around the corners” by seeking
services from backyard laboratories which appear cheaper than accredited ones.
Heath Ministry Commissioner. Dr. Susan
Nabadda Ndidde , also the Executive Director Uganda National Health Laboratories
(UNHLS) says they have received reports that many of the fake results
come from laboratories that go to people's homes to pick samples from them. She
says some of them offer to pick samples from homes but they are not known.
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Nabadda urges people to only get tested from only government accredited
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The two officials were panelists
at the release of the Twaweza Sauti Za
Wanainchi survey finding on COVID-19 testing. The survey conducted in
Kampala, Kyotera and Tororo districts found that more than a third of the
households in the three districts report that one or more household members had
taken a coronavirus test at some point. But some had complained about the cost
of coronavirus tests.
All COVID-19 testing laboratories are accredited by the UVRI. A team from UVRI
carried out a series of site visits and assessments at the laboratories to make
sure they are using approved testing kits and methods. In addition to this, all
staff members need to have training in molecular testing. Also the type of
reagents available at the laboratory are tested.
To date, only 25 laboratories have been accredited. Some of these include:UVRI,
Central Public Health Laboratory, Infectious Disease Laboratory, Makerere
Hospital, Mild May, Joint Clinical Research Center,MBN Laboratories,ANCA
Biotech,Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital, Case Clinic,
MSF-Epicenter,Rakai Health Sciences, Text Xpress,ACTG laboratories and Same
Day. Other testing places are at Mutukula, Tororo and Adjumani points of
The experts also linked the occurrence of fake results to lack of knowledge by
the people carrying out the tests. According to Kaleebu, persons who under PCR
testing have to under go training. However some accredited laboratories do not
have trained staff. As such many get people who do not know what to do.
Dr Grace Kiwanuka, the executive director of the Uganda Health Federation says
that the public needs to try and get tested at accredited laboratories since
some places are using equipment that has not been approved for use in the
"We have received reports that there are unaccredited laboratories
carrying out testing. They are importing testing equipment through unofficial
channels that we don't know. Their products have not been retested here.
There's little we can do but encourage people to go get tested from only
government approved laboratories. When they go to these unapproved places they
out their households at risks of being infected," she said.
The experts say they want the health ministry and the National Drug Authority
to stop the import of substandard COVID-19 testing equipment.
"We do not know how these unapproved products end up on the market. We
have talked to NDA but we still see them. We need a multi-sectoral approach. We
cannot do this on our own. We want the ministry of health to come in but also
to involve organisation such as the Allied Health so that they can follow up on
the work in some of these laboratories because fake tests do not just affect us
but they give us a bad picture abroad," Kaleebu said.
Types of COVID-19 Tests
There are three categories of
testing. The first one is to identify whether the actual COVID
virus genetic material exists, and that's called a NAAT test. And
it's the PCR testing where you would have a nasal pharyngeal swab or
a pharyngeal swab taken.
And then they look for the genetic material of
the virus itself. The second type of testing is when they try to identify
one of the outer proteins of the viral shell or envelope, And that's called
antigen testing. So, they try to detect the outer protein of the virus.
And the third type is to detect within the human body, whether they’ve
developed antibodies. So, it looks for antibodies that are specific to the
outer portion of the virus itself. So, it shows whether the individual has
mounted an immune response or developed immunity towards that specific virus or
The value of getting tested.
to WHO, there are several aspects of that. The first one is to
identify whether a person has the disease or not. That's important to be
able to provide therapy, treatment, but also to specify who does
need to go and test further of the contacts of that specific person. So
that's a big value to address the pandemic. When medics talk about the
value of the antibody testing, it becomes very important to know whether the
person was exposed in the past.
And, when you hear about understanding the
immunity of the population, if you will, that is done through antibody testing.