But that may change dramatically as authorities say Nigerian scientists have developed a cheaper and faster COVID-19 test kit that will enable testing to be ramped up.
Nigerian authorities are hoping that this new kit will help the country increase testing and improve cost efficiencies. The new test is cheaper than other PCR tests — which are the most common type of test — and can give results in less than 40 minutes, according to the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR).
The new test kits will cost less than $25 and can be analysed by a mobile machine that can be operated by low-skilled personnel with minimal training, added the agency.
“If we have testing centres in every local government area across the country, the result will come out faster and more people will be tested. What is on ground currently is not adequate for massive testing,” Dr. Chimere Agomo, a senior lecturer of medical laboratory science at the University of Lagos told Punch Healthwise.
“The low number of testing centres is causing the delay in the release of test results. The result is supposed to be out within 24-48 hours, but owing to low number of testing centres, the results take weeks to be out,” he added.
As of March 2020, the country only had five laboratories capable of testing for the coronavirus and while the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) has worked hard to grow the number of labs to over 70, that still isn’t a lot for a country of over 200 million people.
But testing laboratories are only part of the problem. The high global demand for testing kits means there are less to go round, and Nigeria has had to deal with kit shortages that in turn lead to chronic under-testing.
Since February, when Nigeria recorded its first case, Africa’s most populous country has tested fewer than 550,000 samples. In comparison, Ghana (with a population of 32 million) conducted over 370,000 tests between March and mid-July.
Currently, Nigeria imports PCR kits from China and has struggled to get enough kits to cater for its population. The PCR test is the most widespread and accurate diagnostic test for determining whether someone is currently infected with coronavirus. As of Oct. 6, Nigeria has recorded over 59,000 cases and more than 1,100 deaths, according to figures from the NCDC.
"We thought this [new test] was very important as it will diversify the way testing is done. With this one, all the people in villages and remote areas can be tested by moving the machine to those villages," Babatunde Salako, the director of NIMR, told CNN.
"The machine we use is not the common PCR one. We bought the machine and adapted the kit that we developed to work with this machine. It is meant for diagnosis of other pathogens," he added.
According to Salako, the test kits will be mass-produced once validated by the regulatory authorities — the Nigeria Center for Disease Control and the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria. Although Salako admitted that the new NIMR test kit has a lower detection rate than the popular PCR kit, authorities believe “for the point of care ... it is good enough for now."
Other African countries have also worked on developing their own tests. Back in March, Senegalese scientists worked with a UK-based laboratory to create a coronavirus diagnostic test that can produce test results within 10 minutes.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) also announced that it is working with several regional partners and donor agencies to supply 120 million "affordable" and high-quality COVID-19 rapid tests to low- and middle-income countries, including in Africa.
You can take action to help strengthen Nigeria’s health care systems and reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s most vulnerable by supporting the Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund (NSSF), a fund for Nigerians by Nigerians. The result of a partnership between Global Citizen and the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), you can learn more about the Fund here.