Leveraging Private Sector Partnerships to Support Increased Access to COVID-19 Testing

by Noah Wekesa

Amref Health Africa has been supporting ministries of health in Africa to address the continent’s health challenges for over 60 years now. In response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Amref has been at the forefront of supporting government-led efforts and providing technical support, and has over the recent past forged various partnerships aimed at mitigating the spread of Coronavirus in the country.

When Kenya registered its first case of COVID-19 on March 13th 2020, Amref Health Africa immediately stepped-up its support to the Ministry of Health, including ramping the Amref Central Laboratory to provide testing and analysis of COVID-19 samples in the country. This move followed a call by the Ministry of Health for additional capacity in Coronavirus screening to ease the existing facilities that are likely to be overwhelmed by growing demand for testing.

The gold-standard for COVID-19 testing is Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Unfortunately, PCR is not easily accessible due to its resource intensive nature, driven by the requirement for specialised laboratory equipment, personal protective equipment and personnell trained in bio-molecular techniques. Through a private sector partnership, in June 2020, the Amref Central Laboratory acquired KSH21.3m funding from Dalbit Kenya, meant to support the Government of Kenya’s efforts to step-up Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) testing activities.

Through this grant, the Laboratory has been approved by the Ministry of Health to support its efforts of flattening the COVID-19 curve, and will provide additional testing facilities to help identify and isolate those infected and stop local transmissions. The Amref Central Laboratory joins National Influenza Centre at the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), Aga Khan University Hospital and three KEMRI laboratory facilities that are have been equipped to conduct PCR methods to test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Globally, the demand for Covid-19 testing is high and is even more in low and middle income countries. The COVID-19 pandemic gives us a good reason to contemplate not only the role of private sector in increasing access to health services, but also the role of intermediaries whose ability to acquire funding through private sector collaboration can help improve this access. These intermediaries are often nested in non-profit organisations, allowing them to operate business models that focus on social impact. Although a social impact model can be far reaching, with regards to the numbers of people reached, the model does not lend itself to capital investments, which would be required to enable them to provide surge capacity. Private sector investments in suitable intermediaries can however bridge this capital investment gap, allowing health facilities in the non-for profit space to support ministries of health in the response to

COVID-19. This supports the realisation of a whole society approach to the COVID-19 response, through the mobilisation of resources into the health system.

The Government’s efforts to minimise spread of Coronavirus include the activation of a COVID-19 response mechanism led by a National Taskforce; isolation of suspects and immediate testing; international travel bans and mandatory quarantine of international passengers on arrival; cessation of movement in identified hotspots; call for adoption of prevention actions such as physical distancing, regular handwashing with soap and use of sanitisers. Others are disinfection of affected premises; expanded surveillance and laboratory testing capacity and provision of personal protective equipment for health workers.

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