ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — With increasing cases of COVID-19, Ethiopia has opened a facility to produce kits to test for the coronavirus and says its researchers are working to develop and test a vaccine.
The company producing the testing kits is a joint venture with a Chinese company, called BGI Health Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen to nearly 64,000 causing almost 1,000 deaths, according to government figures. On Sunday, Ethiopia also opened a field hospital to hold up to 200 severely affected Covid-19 patients, which will start admitting patients immediately.
Ethiopia has conducted more than 1.1 million tests, making it the African country that has carried out the third-highest number of tests, according to Ethiopian health officials. The country is struggling with a shortage of testing kits, ventilators, and intensive care beds, they said.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said during the factory’s opening Sunday that the lab will produce 10 million testing kits per year, which will be used in the country and exported, with priority given to other African countries.
“The factory will also provide commercial laboratory services for a total of 3 million transit passengers at Bole International Airport and in Addis Ababa city,” the prime minister stated, adding this will boost the testing capacity of Ethiopia and other African countries.
“After the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the manufacturing center will switch to the production of other types of nucleic acid detection reagents, such as AIDS testing kits, tuberculosis nucleic acid test kits, and other locally needed RT PCR test kit products,” Abiy said.
Abiy also announced that Ethiopian researchers have been working to develop a vaccine, which is now entering a laboratory trial stage.
The local production of the testing kits will have a “huge impact” in boosting Ethiopia's ability to combat the disease, Yared Agidew, head of Ethiopia’s main COVID-19 treatment center in the capital, Addis Ababa, told The Associated Press.
“By conducting more tests, we will be able to identify positive cases in the community and take appropriate measures to control the spread,” he said.
Ethiopia’s Health Minister Lia Tadesse said community transmissions are the main cause of the increasing cases.
“It is mostly related to how communities are behaving and the existence of other risk facts like living in congested settings,” she said. Ethiopian migrants returning from Middle Eastern countries are not seen as a cause of the rising numbers of cases, she said, explaining that all returnees must go through a quarantine period.