Rosario Murillo requested more tests but offered no accounting of how many of those already donated have been used, nor on whom, nor what the results were.
By Keyling T. Romero (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Over a hundred days since the pandemic arrived in Nicaragua, the government has received over 30,000 donated test kits and reagents for diagnosing the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, during this period they have never publicly informed about the total number of test kits they have on hand, nor how many have been used.
Confidencial has confirmed that in addition to the 26,000 test kits delivered by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the Nicaragua Ministry of Health (Minsa) should have received 40 cases of enzymes for testing from the Pan American Health Organization, plus 4,000 tests sent by Russia in response to a request from Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s vice president and official government spokesperson.
“This morning we received an important donation of medical tests, for which we are enormously grateful, brought by the ambassador of the Russian Federation, our brother Andrei Budaev. These were received by the Health Authorities,” stated Murillo in her daily report.
Although the Nicaragua government expressed its gratitude for the donation of the tests, they haven’t explained how many of these they actually received. However, Costa Rica, which had also requested aid, reported that the donation they received was of 4,000 tests.
Murillo requested test kits
According to the statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign affairs, the donation was delivered on July second in a humanitarian flight sent to repatriate Russian citizens in Central America. The Russian FM took advantage of the flight to deliver 32,000 tests to be distributed in the eight countries that form part of the Central American Integration System.
“In response to the requests from Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo, from Vinicio Cerezo, Secretary General of the Central American Integration System, and from Nadia de Leon Torres, President of the Central American Parliament, as well as from the government of Costa Rica, Russia has assigned to this region kits for diagnosing COVID-19, with a total capacity for 32,000 tests,” the press release specifies.
The same flight also brought 37,000 sets of personal protective gear from the publicly owned Russian company “St. Petersburg Scientific Institute for Vaccines and Solutions”, part of the Russian Federal Medical and Biological Agency.
Reagents also sent to the Nicaraguan Health Ministry
The Pan-American Health Organization has also contributed to the Nicaraguan Health Ministry’s testing capacity, with a donation of 40 cases of enzymes needed to process the COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction tests. These are valued at US $69,319 dollars. Every case has the capacity to process 500 reactions, so that the 40 cases delivered last June should be enough for 20,000 tests.
Finally, on March 16, two days before the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Nicaragua, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) donated an unspecified quantity of reagents for processing the tests and also reported that they had trained the Nicaraguan health personnel. A hundred days later, the PAHO Director of Health Emergencies, Ciro Ugarte, complained that Nicaragua was the only country in the region that had not yet reported the number of tests they had conducted and processed.
COVID-19 practically a secret in Nicaragua
In Nicaragua, the state policy has been of “discretion” in the management of the health crisis. The Ministry of Health has avoided taking anything more than minimal actions in reference to the pandemic. In June, when the Anti-epidemic Plan for the next six months was presented, outlining the actions to be taken for containing Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya, as well as COVID-19, there was no mention of carrying out the massive testing for the latter that health experts have recommended.
“The tests in Nicaragua have been completely centralized within the laboratories of Minsa’s central offices in Managua. The Ministry of Health recently warned the population of an alleged illegal entry of rapid-result diagnostic tests that supposedly would be circulating in the country. These, in the judgement of Jorge Huete, PhD in Molecular Biology and Vice President of the Nicaraguan Academy of Science, is an attempt “hide” the true number of COVID-19 cases.
“Their refusal to authorize diagnostic testing in the private sector is aimed at hiding the fact that Nicaragua presents one of the highest mortality rates in the continent, more than 262 deaths per million inhabitants. This figure would represent a higher index [per capita] than that of Brazil, the hardest hit nation in the region,” Huete declared.
Weeks before, the Supreme Council of Private Enterprise had asked for authorization to “import materials for realizing tests in the private health system”. They have received no response from the public health authorities.
The last known statistic on the test results came from a Confidencial investigation in May. At that time, several sources who worked in the central laboratories asserted that up through the second week of that month 5,900 COVID-19 tests had been realized, of which 1,600 were positive.
The official weekly report on COVID-19 lists 2,519 cumulative “confirmed or probable” cases in the country and 83 deaths. The official phrase “confirmed or probable” indicates that even these cases were not necessarily tested.