Despite the economic devastation and public health threat brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Namibian authorities have invested handsomely in new infrastructure with the hope of scaling up Covid-19 testing in the country.
Thanks to the pandemic, some of the country’s largest diagnostic pathology service providers have intensified their testing capacities in handling the deadly virus.
At the time of the outbreak in Namibia exactly a year ago, the country did not have a testing capacity for Covid-19, with early samples sent to South Africa for processing.
Although they could not test for Covid-19 at the beginning, the Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) and PathCare remain two of the largest diagnostic pathology service providers in the country.
Many other privately-owned laboratories also came on board to complement government’s effort in fighting the pandemic. To date, the country has processed 318 007 samples.
Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula this week admitted Namibia did not have testing capacity when the pandemic emerged last year. However, he said the country has now been capacitated to deal with the pandemic in terms of testing capacity including investing in state-of-the-art equipment towards that purpose.
NIP is currently testing at five of its laboratories (Windhoek Central Reference Laboratory, Oshakati, Keetmanshoop, Walvis Bay and Katima Mulilo).
NIP CEO Kapena Tjombonde clarified that the institution was always in a position to provide the services as mandated and only referred specialised tests to, and collaborated with its partners in, South Africa.
When Covid-19 reached Namibia, she indicated NIP could test for the virus. “NIP has been able to test for Covid-19 as the instruments were on board and during the early stages of the outbreak, our testing capacity was at less than 100 tests per day and our first test was performed on 10 March 2020,” Tjombonde stressed.
In essence, she defended NIP as being prepared for the pandemic and that it has been responsive to the testing demand, increasing testing from less than 100 to 1 500 samples per day.
She attributed the use of high-tech diagnostic equipment to faster turn-around times, faster diagnosis, treatment contact tracing and national decision-making.
Fortunately, Tjombonde said, most of the equipment in use for HIV viral load or TB testing can also be used for Covid-19.
“Gratefully we further received equipment donations from Old Mutual Namibia, De Beers Group and are awaiting an instrument from Allan Gray Orbis Foundation,” she added.
Asked on NIP’s future expansion, she responded that such plans are not just geared towards Covid-19, but for other public health matters of concern.
“In terms of Covid testing, the landscape is evolving from PCR laboratory-based testing to rapid diagnostics testing (RDT), which NIP is following very closely for a responsive strategy,” she said.
Tjombonde also indicated NIP recently started making use of an SMS portal to send negative Covid-19 results directly to the cellphone number provided by the client at testing. “We, thus encourage the clients to ensure that accurate mobile numbers are provided at all time.”