Mass Covid-19 tests begin as Rwanda readies for end of lockdown

Saturday April 25 2020

Ventilators developed by the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre, in Rwanda. The WHO sets that coronavirus transmission must be under control and health systems must be able to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact before a lockdown is lifted. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG


Rwanda is ramping up its testing for the coronavirus through periodic community testing and sampling in hospitals and clinics across the country.

Those targeted in this random mass testing are patients who present with influenza-like illnesses and severe acute respiratory infections in all levels of healthcare facilities.

The plan is to carry out at least 1,000 targeted and random sample tests per day, according to the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), in order to “prevent the virus from hiding” in some pockets of the country.

“We are doing targeted and random mass testing in the context of the Covid-19 cases we have identified so that we make sure that no virus is circulating within the population. This is in connection with the confirmed cases and key groups that we identified to be at risk of contracting the virus and spreading it further,” Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, director general of RBC told The EastAfrican.

The Ministry of Health says it has enough equipment and kits necessary to conduct over 1,000 tests per day, as well as enough medical supplies and ventilators for patients requiring critical care, but officials are not divulging how many testing kits the country has.

Test kit donations


The country, however, received two batches of medical supplies from the Jack Ma Foundation including over 20,000 test kits, 100,000 face masks and 1,000 medical suits in the first batch and 500 ventilators, 200,000 suits and face shields, 2,000 thermometers, one million swabs and extraction kits and 500,000 gloves to be shared with other countries.

But the government has also spent an unknown amount of money to purchase testing kits and so far have not indicated there is a shortage.

Germany has also donated coronavirus kits worth about $200,000, while the East African Community has provided a mobile laboratory that the government plans to deploy for mass testing.

“One of the reasons we are carrying out these tests is because we want to make sure that by the time the lockdown is lifted, there is no risk of the virus continuing to spread. The more you test the more you know what is happening on the ground,” Dr Nsanzimana said.

Targeting zero cases

“Expanding the testing is the only way to ensure the virus not hiding somewhere, so going beyond the communities is another step forward. This is the parameter we are using to ensure that the lockdown is guided by the data and information we have.”

Since the beginning of April, the Ministry of Health has carried out over 15,000 Covid-19 tests.

The campaign will go on until Rwanda achieves a “couple of successive weeks without reporting a single coronavirus positive case,” Dr Nsanzimana said.

The sampling is also being done in communities, where health workers pick samples from various people across the country and test them for the virus.

The RBC has also said that they will run the mass testing until they do not record a single coronavirus infection for “a couple of successive weeks.”

Rwanda’s mass testing also seeks to fulfil the conditions set by the World Health Organization for countries before lifting the coronavirus lockdown.

The WHO sets that coronavirus transmission must be under control and health systems must be able to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact before a lockdown is lifted.

The body also says that hot spot risks must be minimised in vulnerable places, while schools, workplaces and other essential places must have in place preventive measures.

The risk of importing new cases must be controlled, the WHO says, while communities should be sensitised.