Health

COVID-19: Testing rates declining globally challenge for tracking trajectory, says WHO

Low testing rates also limit access to effective new antivirals

 
By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Wednesday 11 May 2022
COVID-19: Testing rates declining globally challenge for tracking trajectory, says WHO Photo: iStock

Testing rates for COVID-19 are declining across the globe, threatening to derail efforts to end the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned May 10, 2022, ahead of the Second Global COVID-19 Summit.

Low testing rates also limit access to effective new antivirals, the United Nations health agency warned.

Low-income countries are testing at an average of just five tests per day per 100,000 people — far from the goal of 100 per day, WHO added.

The Second Global COVID-19 Summit, scheduled to be held virtually May 12, is being jointly hosted by WHO and the United States, Belize, Germany, Indonesia and Senegal. The agenda of the meeting is to urge world leaders to make concrete commitments to save lives and build better health security.

Other experts have also expressed concerns over low testing rates across the globe. Several countries and states are now shifting to providing weekly COVID-19 data instead of daily, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent population health research centre at the University of Washington Medicine, stated.

This could potentially skew our understanding of how the pandemic is progressing, IHME explained.

The quality and timeliness of data have changed, they pointed out. This will impact researchers’ ability to track and make projections on the future course of the pandemic, IHME added.

In India, underdiagnosis can explain why the omicron curve was much shorter than delta, JP Muliyil, former head, department of community health, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, earlier told DTE.

“For delta, cases were 25 times what was reported. For omicron, it’s at least 100, if not more. The government data is not giving you an accurate picture,” he explained. 

The Second Global Summit will also focus on COVID-19 vaccination rates and therapeutics. “It is imperative that leaders seize this opportunity to mobilise the funding and political will required to achieve global targets for COVID-19 vaccination coverage, testing rates and access to treatments, including oral antivirals and oxygen,” WHO said.

“Achieving these targets is essential to ending the pandemic by reducing transmission and protecting everyone from the harms of COVID-19,” it added.

Lower-income countries are struggling to vaccinate their people despite significantly accelerating coverage rates. Millions are still unvaccinated and exposed, with just over 15 per cent in low-income countries being vaccinated, according to the UN health agency.

Achieving a vaccination coverage of 70 per cent, especially prioritising full coverage of at-risk groups, remains the best way to save lives, protect health systems and minimise cases of long COVID, WHO stressed.

Another challenge, according to the global body, is the constrained supply of new antivirals. WHO recently updated its live guidelines on treating a COVID-19 infection to strongly recommend Paxlovid and conditionally recommend molnupiravir — both of which are antiviral pills.

Medical oxygen and personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages are still impacting many countries, it said.

“We urge world leaders, the private sector, philanthropists, civil society and other stakeholders to make the firm, substantive commitments needed to save lives, turn the tide and secure the future for all,” the WHO noted.

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