Turkey’s coronavirus testing steps up, but questions arise over test kits

As Turkey struggles to increase testing for the coronavirus, questions have arisen over its decision to purchase rapid test kits from China while sending test kits to the US.

Earlier this week, Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 500,000 Turkish-manufactured polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the coronavirus had been sent to the US while a million rapid test kits have been purchased from China.

He said Turkey ad a monthly production capacity of 2 million tests and added that the tests purchased from China were “rapid tests”, not PCR.

Since reporting its first case two weeks ago, there has been a surge in cases to 3,629, which has outstripped rates in most other countries. Additionally, the government has fallen short of its own target to conduct 10,000 tests per day.

In interviews with Reuters, experts urged stronger stay-at-home orders while some said it was risky for Ankara to export 500,000 kits to the United States only to turn around and order a million more from China.

Rapid test kits themselves may prove controversial, as questions over their effectiveness have already arisen in the US.

While details over the Chinese rapid test kits are not immediately known, the ABC network in the US reported that a US-manufactured rapid test kit only had a 60 percent success rate in picking up coronavirus cases.

ABC quoted College of American Pathologist Microbiology Committee Chair Dr. Bobbi Pritt as saying: “It is not very sensitive for detecting the virus in patient specimens. A sensitivity of 60 percent means that only 6 out of every 10 cases of COVID-19 will be detected by this test, and four will be missed.”

Referring to Turkey’s rate of testing, Sinan Adiyaman, chairman of the Turkish Medics Association (TTB), said: “Our test numbers are low. We were certainly not prepared. Countries that are ready must have high test numbers.”

The government has said it took timely measures to delay the outbreak.

But Adiyaman said Turkey was slow on some steps, including suspending sports leagues and quarantining those coming from abroad, especially the thousands returning this month from an Umrah pilgrimage.

“Around 200,000 people arrived from abroad since the outbreak began, and they were just given a simple fever test and released across Turkey an uncontrolled manner,” he said. “You cannot fight a pandemic this way.”

The coronavirus has so far killed 75 people in the country.

About 40,000 tests have been done, including nearly 7,000 in the last 24 hours.

To contain the virus, Ankara has closed schools, cafes, and bars, banned mass prayers, and suspended sports matches and flights.

Mustafa Cankurtaran, head of geriatrics at the Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine, said his team is following the national guidelines, testing only “risky” patients with cough and fever.

But next month would be critical since the outbreak will widen, he told Reuters.

The TTB’s Adiyaman said sending the test kits jeopardized the health of the public and medical personnel. “Exporting testing kits to the United States as Turkey needs them, and while they need to be used here will be an unforgivable mistake,” he said.

Irshad Shaikh, the World Health Organisation’s health security program Leader in Turkey, aid the country had little room for error and must test everyone who has had contact with the virus.

Among the containment measures, Ankara said it quarantined Muslims returning from Umrah in Saudi Arabia.

But Nihat Gonul, the local administrator of a village in Sakarya province some 120 km east of Istanbul, said two returning pilgrims continued their lives normally and attended gatherings for days before authorities came to quarantine them.

“There is this atmosphere of uncertainty in the village. People are scared, not sure what to think,” Gonul said.


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