Coronavirus: South Africa gets drive-through test

Johannesburg,  for decades the city of cars,  has long been famous for its drive-in food takeaways. Now it could be known for Africa’s first drive-in COVID-19 testing centre.

Every day scores of cars pull in to a car park at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg with a doctor’s referral letter in hand. Officials verify the letter, sort out payment and then send the diver on to the next station where a doctor takes swabs from the nasal cavity. The test is sent to a laboratory and within 48 hours comes the result.

Running the drive-in testing centre is Dr Yakub Essak, a Johannesburg GP and medical coordinator for Gift of the Givers the charity that came up with the idea. He says drivers don’t leave their seat for the test.

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“It is a lot safer because then you don’t have to have patients mixing with each other. You test them in their own environment, in the car,” says Essak.

Gift of the Givers has also opened a similar operation outside Ahmed Al-Kadi Private Hospital in Durban and is planning others in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The charity uses volunteer doctors and has managed to keep costs down so it can charge around half of that charged by other clinics.

The greatest problem the drive-in testing stations face is a lack of protective equipment – a shortage that the volunteers are trying to produce remedy for.

The drive-in testing centres are part of South Africa’s attempts to step up it’s testing of COVID-19. A backlog running into thousands had built up as the state system struggled, but now private laboratories are also putting their shoulders to the wheel, according to public health medicine specialist, Dr Atiya Mosam.

Dr Mosam admitted that there were probably more cases in South Africa than had been detected by current testing, but thought the medical professionals were doing a fair job of containing the disease.

“Even so, people shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security,” she said.

South Africa and Senegal were the only countries in Africa with testing laboratories when COVID-19 broke out, according to the World Health Organization, but now more than 40 nations can test for the disease.

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