Ethiopia on Sunday announced the first death of a patient suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as officials ramped up testing to get a clearer picture of the outbreak there.
“It is my deepest regret to announce the first death of a patient from #COVID19 in Ethiopia,” Health Minister Lia Tadesse said on Twitter.
The victim was a 60-year-old Ethiopian woman who had spent six days in intensive care, a health ministry statement said.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also took to Twitter on Sunday to offer his condolences.
Ethiopia, a country of more than 100 million people, confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 13 and has recorded just 43 in total — mostly people who have a history of recent foreign travel.
But testing has been extremely limited.
As of Friday, the country had conducted just 1,222 tests, according to the Ethiopian Public Health Institute.
South Africa, by comparison, has performed tens of thousands of tests.
On Saturday, Ethiopian officials announced they were conducting an additional 647 tests “as part of strengthening the COVID-19 surveillance”.
The new round of testing targeted health workers, people in the transportation sector who have “direct contact with passengers” and “randomly selected community members” in Addis Ababa, the capital, and the city of Adama in the Oromia region.
It was intended to help determine whether there has been undetected community transmission, said Dr Adisu Kebede, director of national laboratory capacity building.
“There are also a few cases that we identified that have no travel history and things like that, and from their contacts, you can guess that there is community transmission already,” Adisu said.
“The WHO recommended ‘test, test, test,’ so we had to test more people,” he added.
The country has “around 23,000” testing kits available, the vast majority of them donated last month by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, Adisu said.
It has no rapid testing capacity, and its facilities can currently process no more than 500 tests per day, he said, though the goal is to push that figure to over 1,000 by the end of the month.