Removing the blindfold: testing for COVID-19 in the absence of grid electricity

With the number of new coronavirus cases continuing to rise, it is clear we are still firmly in the pandemic’s grip. The past week saw a peak global average of more than 200,000 new infections confirmed daily. And as we anxiously wait for treatments, cures, or vaccines to bring relief — measures to contain the virus are the best response we have. In order to do so, says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, “all countries should be able to test all suspected cases. They cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded; they should know where the cases are.

Yet, given the vast scope of the disease his “simple message for all countries [to] test, test, test” is challenging under the best of circumstances. It is all the more difficult in settings where a source of energy remains elusive, such as in sub-Saharan Africa where only an estimated 28% of health facilities have access to reliable electricity. Even under a “hub and spoke” testing approach in which samples are collected at distributed screening locations such as smaller hospitals, doctor’s offices, rural health clinics, and dedicated testing centers (the “spokes”), and then transported to a central test lab (the “hub”) — an energy source will be needed to keep the samples refrigerated until, and during, transport.

Our new guidance note, Energy Requirements of the Screening Sites in a COVID-19 Hub and Spoke Testing Approach, produced in collaboration with the Schatz Energy Research Center and the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), provides vital information to those working to build testing capacity in off-grid and weak-grid areas about these energy requirements for cooling at screening sites. A number of options for creating and maintaining a reliable cold-chain for the storage and transport of test samples are presented. 

This work is part of Lighting Global’s ongoing efforts to support the World Bank Group’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, by enabling access to energy. Soon, we hope to support the creation and maintenance of these cold-chains for another purpose — to distribute a much longed for vaccine.

 

Learn more in our new guidance note: Energy Requirements of the Screening Sites in a COVID-19 Hub and Spoke Testing Approach