Solomon Jamiru Clears the Air Over COVID-19 Testing

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Spokesperson of the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Center (NACOVERC) Solomon Jamiru Esq

By Amin Kef Sesay

Presently, there are rumours making the rounds that the testing being used by medical practitioners to determine whether a suspected individual is showing signs of having contracted the coronavirus is positive or negative is highly questionable. In other words, some are harbouring the notion that the testing done on individuals to prove that they are positive or negative is very uncertain.

This expressed doubt came in the wake of the return of some Sierra Leoneans from Kuwait who were said to have tested negative when tested in Kuwait where they were transported to Sierra Leone but when tested here the result proved that they were positive.

This created a lot of tongue wagging that our testing mechanism is not proper especially fuelled by those who are denying that the coronavirus does not exist but some Government officials are saying it does and it is a calculated ploy to get access to donor funding.

In order to clear the air, Spokesperson of the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Center (NACOVERC) Solomon Jamiru Esq debunked that such is a negative thinking.

He made it abundantly clear to this medium that firstly, Sierra Leone uses only the WHO-approved PCR test kits unlike other countries who choose to use the Rapid Test Kit which he stated  is not an approved test kit by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Jamiru furthered that Ghana is yet to carry out their own test of their returnees which, he said, is an authoritative information from their colleagues in Ghana.

“We in Sierra Leone must learn to trust our own professionals. Even as we have our own challenges, like all other countries, we happen to be doing the right thing in the midst of difficult resources constraints,” he admonished.

In a very serious and matter of the fact mood the retired Jamiru intimated that it is a shame that we continue to cry down our professionals and institutions  perpetually as long as some people are not directly participating. He firmly underscored that whether someone holds an office or not, however, in this fight against the virus, we are all in this together.

He disclosed that some countries in the sub region have even simply stopped contact tracing let alone carry out tests saying that if they do, they rather go in for the cheaper  RDT which already has a very high margin of error.

“Kuwait used the Rapid Test Kits at their airport just before throwing out our nationals. Have you asked yourselves how come every single one of them is negative?” he asked reaffirming that we must learn to respect our professionals.

He said the pandemic is not a local or national issue but it is global and is under the watchful eyes of the WHO.

The Spokesman revealed that Sierra Leone uses the best test kits which are PCR test kits that is approved by the WHO were as the Kuwaiti authorities use the RDT kits which are not approved by the WHO.

He underscored that the information that was circulating on social media as coming from Ghana is simply fake and appealed for a change of our attitudes which he stressed for now is not taking us anywhere.

It could be recalled that 284 samples obtained, and 270 analysed, it was announced that 86 positive cases were reported during the 11am EOC Press update.

Shortly afterwards, EOC officials had the cause to announce 14 more positive cases based on the remaining 14 samples analysed (total of 100 positive cases). 67 of those were attributed to the Kuwait repatriation, and 19 (Western Urban), 5 (Western Rural), 1 (Tonkolili), 1 (Kambia), 6 (Bo), 1 (Kono).

He said Sierra Leonean citizens were repatriated from Kuwait, and they were received wholeheartedly. Upon their arrival, the mandatory quarantine was activated, and all necessary protocols matching their situation applied. They were tested on the first day of quarantine.

For the first time since Sierra Leone recorded its index on March 30, questions were raised about Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 testing regime.

According to the Spokesperson of COVID-19 Response ,Solomon Jamiru,  healthcare systems all over the world have adopted two dominant testing paths -PCR and Serologic tests. He said the first is what is done in the country (collecting swabs from nose/throat and analysing samples in laboratories).

He added that such is used to establish whether or not someone has the coronavirus maintaining that if someone does, he or she is isolated and treated.

“This is the viral test for a current infection and by the way, Sierra Leone’s testing is of good standard and used to detect nuclear materials. We are not yet doing the serologic (antibody tests) that some others are doing. This antibody test merely determines whether someone had the virus and has recovered as opposed to our brand of test which tells us that you do have the virus or not. So, antibody test may tell us whether a lot of us may have had the virus and recovered without even knowing it,” he elucidated.

Jamiru noted that close attention is paid to national quality assurance broadly revealing how our virologists and lab technicians are highly acclaimed, and have a dedicated team they work with.

“If a sample is analysed and result shows positive, they seek to ensure the positive predictive value (that is, a high probability that a person who has a positive screening test, is indeed positive). If someone’s screening test shows negative, they will similarly establish the threshold of that predictive value. If tests are run and they show ‘indeterminate’, there will be a re-run to establish specificity. That’s the kind of team we have at the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Center (NACOVERC),” its Spokesman Solomon Jamiru pointed out.

He said they seek diagnostic accuracy -not the most perfect of systems saying that is the case the world over pointing out that for a positive case to be declared, someone’s RNA (turned into DNA) has to match the genetic code of SARS Coronavirus 2.

He also said that it may be the case that testing standards, more so regarding cycle threshold (CT) value, may be set slightly differently from country to country.

“We see the testing menu expanding, and several recipes developed by different countries to address the evolving coronavirus genetic profile. Whatever testing brand a country adopts, there are sensitivities. It is possible for test kits from different countries or brand to show different sensitivities, and we have seen several countries express concerns over test kits and results based on several factors,” he continued.

He said with the 100 positive cases recorded in Sierra Leone in 24 hours (67 attributed to the Kuwait repatriation), it’s too early to cast aspersions due to any variance in results.

Jamiru said there is need for deeper technical examination of the issue, which would warrant sharing our testing models and experiences with others, and learning from theirs as well (including what thresholds and kits are being used) maintaining how such is the position of NACOVERC.

“We believe that our experts working at the Labs and those collecting samples are some of the most dedicated and professional people who are giving their best to address infections and break the chain of transmission and we also continue to use what is the recommended standard. With respect to the Kuwaiti repatriation positive cases, let me say again, our experts are at work, and they have always had the culture of ascertaining veracity -and the 100 cases shall never escape that compelling necessity. With a disease that keeps evolving, and testing recipes expanding (different models seemingly applying in different places), we need time to unravel the puzzle. I choose to trust our lab professionals and testing systems,” he concluded.

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