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Health Experts Call for Shift to Environmental Surveillance to Detect New COVID Infections

This comes following decrease in testing which has left many organisation such as WHO blind regarding the trajectory of the disease.Between March and May 2022, only 30 percent of countries reporting testing data met the WHO benchmark of carrying out 10 tests per 10,000 people per week. This is down from 40 percent in the months between the waves driven by Delta and Omicron in 2021


Experts are calling upon countries to introduce environmental surveillance of COVID-19.

The call was made during a WHO virtual meeting that took place today.

Countries are being asked to start carrying out waste water and sewage sequencing of the disease due to a decrease in the number of the persons getting tested.

This comes following decrease in testing which has left many organisations such as WHO blind regarding the trajectory of the disease. Between March and May 2022, only 30 percent of countries reporting testing data met the WHO benchmark of carrying out 10 tests per 10,000 people per week. This is down from 40 percent in the months between the waves driven by Delta and Omicron in 2021.

To deal with this, scientists are now calling for environmental surveillance yet many countries on the continent are still basing their genome sequencing based on PCR testing of individuals.

Dr. Kerrigan McCarthy, the Specialist Pathologist, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, South Africa says using environmental surveillance could help bridge the gap that has been left by a decrease in testing of persons.

"With the number of people testing reducing, we need to look at other alternative means that can be indicative of where the disease is. We believe environmental testing can assist with this," she said.

So far, Africa has reported 11.7 million cases and around 253,000 deaths. The continent recorded 52,878 cases in the week ending on 8 May, a rise of 38% from the week before.

Dr. Abdou Salam Gueye, the director of Emergency Preparedness and Response at World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa says countries need to increase  preparedness.

"This uptick in cases is an early warning sign which we are closely monitoring. Now is the time for countries to step up preparedness and ensure that they can mount an effective response. With the experience gained over the past two years, we must do all it takes to curb the adverse impacts of a new pandemic wave by stepping up vaccination and the measures to detect and prevent the spread of the virus as well as treat patients. To beat this pandemic, we must stay vigilant. The harsh reality is that complacency comes at a high price," he said.