In the first week of January, reports emerged that a mysterious new form of pneumonia had affected dozens of people in China. Some were in a critical condition, and several had invasive lesions on both lungs.
Thousands of miles away in Berlin, German scientist Olfert Landt was already on alert. For 30 years, he had worked on diagnosing emerging diseases, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). He wanted to make a test kit to help doctors diagnose the disease — and he wanted to do it fast.
When it comes to stopping the spread of a pandemic, testing is key. If a person is diagnosed, they can be isolated from others and treated appropriately. As WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this month: “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.”
But nearly three months after Landt first noticed reports of a mysterious disease, countries around the world are still struggling to test for Covid-19, the infectious disease caused by a new novel coronavirus. Some tests are inaccurate, others took a long time to create, and now testing companies are warning they are running dangerously low on materials.
That raises an important question: if a test can be developed so quickly, why are some countries still struggling?