Why widespread testing is crucial to combatting coronavirus
In the last month, COVID-19 cases have soared as countries struggle to contain the virus. So far, between 15–20% of cases have been classed as ‘severe’, whilst the large majority of infected individuals either experience mild or even no symptoms.Scientists have confirmed that asymptomatic individuals can still be highly contagious — yet many countries reserve testing for those who display severe symptoms or are hospitalised. Since the virus initially emerged, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has emphasized the importance of widespread testing. WHO’s Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated: “Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission. Every case we find and treat, limits the expansion of the disease.”
Mass testing has been key to reducing transmission in South Korea, followed by rigorous contact tracing and quarantine. South Korea was incredibly respondent to the advice of medical professionals, gathering supplies far before their first case was reported. By the time they had multiple cases in their country, thousands of test kits were available — producing 100,000 kits per day so that they had the resources to test high-risk and vulnerable people who were asymptomatic. Test centres and test ‘drive-throughs’ sprung up across the country in urban and remote areas to ensure inclusive testing, resulting in the country conducting the highest number of tests per capita in the world.
Testing is more than just identifying and isolating infected individuals. Information and data about the virus are crucial to measuring the progression of the epidemic which will influence policy-making and government strategy. Virologists can analyse the information in order to understand the nature of the virus, whether or not it is mutating, and who it is affecting the most. Further, it can be used to see whether the measures that governments are taking are effective in slowing the spread of the virus. Many countries across the world have been accused of limiting testing to downplay the number of coronavirus cases in their country. However, it is absolutely paramount that testing is offered widely, to analyse how the disease is behaving and ensure certainty about the situation.
In light of the outbreak of coronavirus, and as a part of its ongoing efforts to support the health and wellbeing of the people of Kazakhstan, the Saby Foundation has donated US$900,000 to support the National Centre for Disease Control in Kazakhstan. The funds will be utilised to purchase around 130,000 test kits — 75% are rapid tests from China — which will be distributed to citizens by the Ministry of Health for free. An additional KZT 10 million was donated by the Saby Foundation to purchase lung ventilator apparatus, vital to helping hospitalised individuals in their fight against the virus. There has been a positive response from the private sector in Kazakhstan. My private donation of US$ 1 million to the Birgemiz Public Fund was accompanied by donations from several other Kazakh businessmen, and the recently created government fund has now raised a total of US$ 41 million so far. The money will be used to help vulnerable individuals who have been affected by coronavirus, as well as supply essential protective and medical equipment to hospitals.
It is undeniable that effective testing programmes allow governments and health authorities to understand how prevalent the disease is and how it is evolving. Tracking positive test results helps authorities make evidence-based decisions to try to slow the spread of the disease. Testing must form part of government strategies, accompanied by social distancing measures, travel restrictions and increasing health care capacity, which will help combat the novel coronavirus.
During this uncertain time, we must remain resilient, follow government advice and support one another.