Dakar – Senegal’s Institut Pasteur was one of only two laboratories in Africa able to test for COVID-19 at the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. The institution’s director, Dr Amadou Sall, speaks about the efforts Senegal has made to strengthen testing as well as the challenges faced.
What measures have been taken to step up COVID-19 diagnosis in Senegal?
Three major strategies anchor the efforts to bolster COVID-19 testing: delivering test results within 24 hours once samples are received by the laboratory. This has been possible due to the streamlining of laboratory operations from receiving samples to issuing results. A 24-hour operation every day of the week, and the automation of processes at every stage possible.
Secondly, we also have a digital platform through which health workers can receive results from the surveillance teams, while travellers can receive their results digitally as soon as they are ready. We can act quickly and take the necessary steps.
Thirdly, COVID-19 response has also been decentralized to the districts. This has made setting up of laboratories and sample collection [locally] in most regions possible, cutting down on transportation delays [to far-away laboratories]. Laboratory testing has been decentralized to eight regions in the country thanks to the support of WHO, IDB [Islamic Development Bank] and the government.
What has been the impact of the testing strategy on the COVID-19 response?
At the onset of the pandemic, this strategy helped us to quickly identify clusters [of cases] and transfer patients for treatment in time. It helped to prevent and halt several chains of transmission.
When we reached the level of community transmission, the strategy allowed us to quickly identify and isolate confirmed cases among symptomatic patients. High-risk contacts and vulnerable people were also identified and protected thanks to this strategy.
Lastly it has also prevented the exportation of confirmed cases to other countries.
What are the challenges and how do you resolve them?
We face two major challenges. First, sample collection kits and personal protective equipment that are in short supply due to heightened global demand. The whole supply chain has been affected. Secondly, the personnel and logistics needed for effective testing.
We have a continuous recruitment process and training to ensure that we have enough personnel. For supplies, we do regular resource mobilization and work with major institutions to procure reagents, supplies and equipment.