Covid-19 testing in Kenya hits new low

Wednesday January 06 2021
Covid-19 test.

Dr Joseph Kivindu of Lancet Kenya takes swabs from Makolanders Women Football Club player Tabaka Chacha on December 10, 2020 for Covid-19 testing. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NMG


Kenya’s Covid-19 testing capacity has declined, raising concern that this has affected actual infection numbers.

So far, there has been slightly over a million tests conducted, with the Health ministry doing an average of 3,495 tests a day in the last three days.

Testing was at an all-time high between November 16 and 22 last year.

A senior officer working in one of the testing sites said that there is a shortage of extraction kits used in testing and that majority of the tests conducted are actually coming from private institutions.

Testing for Covid-19 involves inserting a cotton bud like swab into the cavity between the nose and mouth (nasopharyngeal swab) for 15 seconds and rotating it several times. The swabbing is then repeated on the mouth to make sure enough material is collected.

The source added that there is a backlog in some of the government sites making it hard to give as many numbers as possible.


The shortage is experienced in Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) in Nairobi, Kilifi and Kisumu as well as the Coast General Provincial Hospital, and the National Public Health Laboratories Services.

Reached for comment, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said in a text message, “We don’t.”

Decline in testing

Dr Ahmed Kalebi, the CEO of Pathologist Lancet Kenya, one of the private labs conducting tests, said that they have seen a drop in testing compared to November and December.

“At Lancet we are doing 300 to 600 tests a day currently down from 700 to 1,100 at the peak of the second wave in November to December. The decline in testing is a reflection of reduced demand owing to the lower infection rate currently. Demand for testing is driven by number of positive contacts,” he said.

He added that there has been a steady decline of number of new cases, deaths and also the positivity rate.

“The test positive rate is unaffected by number of tests done as it is a ratio, yet we now have the lowest test positive under 5 per cent on eight consecutive days. Such low test positive rate has not been seen in the country since May 2020,” he said.

Delayed widespread testing is a cause for concern for many, especially since widespread testing can provide a better picture of the spread of Covid-19.

In a previous interview, Dr Patrick Amoth, who is the acting health director-general, explained that the country ought to conduct 6,000 to 10,000 tests a day for a minimum of two weeks to get clear indication of whether the positivity rate in the country is going down.