Ecuador registers less than a million PCR samples almost a year after the start of the pandemic

On March 21, 2020, when Ecuador had 532 cases of COVID-19, the then Minister of Health, Catalina Andramuño, announced that two million PCR tests would arrive. That day, Andramuño resigned and Juan Carlos Zevallos was appointed to replace her. After almost a year of the start of the pandemic, the country still does not have a million PCR samples.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the first step to develop and apply control strategies is prevention, with the use of diagnostic tests.

«Analyzes affect most medical decisions,» said the WHO deputy director general for Access to Medicines and Products. In Ecuador, it is not possible to make decisions based on the results of PCR tests, due to the small universe it represents.

Until this February 22, 2021, the Ministry of Health reported that 975.132 PCR samples have been taken: 274.968 positive cases and 646.095 discarded.

So far this month alone, 89.058 samples have been taken, with an average of 4.094 tests daily. In January, 136.428 PCR samples were taken, being the month with the most tests applied to the population since the pandemic began. Each day, an average of 4.401 samples were taken.

December was one of the lowest months in the ability to test for COVID-19. It closed with 96.944 samples, of which 19.827 were positive, 71.515 negative and almost 5.000 tests dammed. With 3.127 daily intakes, there were days that even less than 500 samples were collected.

Although the testing capacity was slightly increased this year, compared to the last months of 2020, it is not enough.

For epidemiologist Daniel Simancas, there should be a policy of increasing tests in relation to the number of cases, but in the country that has not happened. He criticized that there have been many irregularities in the processing of the evidence.

For example, the reports of the Ministry of Health, at first, published only the PCR samples, then included the number of rapid tests, but stopped publishing them.

Furthermore, the same infographic explains that «there may be more than one sample per person during the diagnostic process»; that is, it does not reflect the real universe of those who have taken the test because there could be duplicates. On October 5, 2020, for example, the country had 455.122 samples. The next day, they dropped to 445.026; that is, more than 10.000 PCR tests were removed in this «scrubbing» process.

The epidemiologist Andrea Gómez pointed out that at least 10 tests should be taken for each positive case in order to carry out an efficient epidemiological surveillance. The objective is to cut the chain of transmission: to know the cases, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, to prevent new infections and to treat, early, those who tested positive to prevent their health from worsening and they do not need hospitalization. «Without a diagnosis, no action can be taken,» said Goméz.

According to several statesmen, Ecuador is among the last places in the region in terms of its ability to test for COVID-19. According to a graph published by Ana María Ríos, on the Statista.com portal, Brazil carried out, until January 4, almost 29 million tests, followed by Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba and Panama. The rest of the countries, including Ecuador, have not achieved even one million tests.

While the communicator Pablo Rivero periodically updates the figures, with official information, on the PCR tests that are taken in the region and makes two lists:

The first: Countries that do more testing per 100.000 inhabitants, in which Ecuador does not appear. The second, countries that do the least tests per 100.000 inhabitants, in which Ecuador is ranked fifth, out of ten countries.

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