Press statement: Access to COVID-19 testing and accurate health information is a human rights issue

 In C19PC Statements, Uncategorized

9 April 2020

Press statement: Access to COVID-19 testing and accurate health information is a human rights issue

Statement on behalf of the Health Working Group of the C19 People’s Coalition

The COVID-19 epidemic is a global health crisis. Not since HIV first threatened to decimate populations across the world, have we seen a crisis on this scale. Like HIV, it is also an epidemic that harbors the potential for massive human rights violations and gross inequities in access to treatment, vaccines and care. But like HIV, it is also an epidemic that is beset by denialism and fake news, both of which can kill.

 We have seen in recent days lots of information posted on social media that is completely false. Some of these claims are: the test for COVID19 will actually give you the virus; when we do get a vaccine that this vaccine will also have virus in it;  Barack Obama has recommended against the use of the vaccine. These claims are not true at all. The problem is that fake news can put your life, the life of your family and the future of your communities at risk.

 Why do we need testing for COVID-19?

 The Department of Health is responsible for the health of the nation. In the face of the COVID-19 epidemic, testing is key to controlling the spread of the disease. We must screen and test as many people as possible for COVID-19. This is very important because some people with the virus feel well and don’t know they have it. BUT they can pass it to others who can get sick. The national lockdown will only help us contain the spread of the virus if we also find people infected by the virus. That is why the Department of Health is driving a massively expanding testing programme for COVID-19. This testing is being informed by mapping who is testing positive and working to protect surrounding families and communities who may be vulnerable.

Knowing if someone is positive for COVID-19 will allow the health system to give them the healthcare they need and help them to live separately from their families while recovering from the infection.  This is important to protect those that are ill from COVID-19 as well as to protect their families from getting infected. 

What is screening?

 Screening for COVID-19 is a simple and safe procedure. It is done by a health worker or someone appointed and trained by the Department of Health. They must present you with proof of their identification before the screening begins.  Screening involves the health worker taking your temperature with a thermometer and asking you questions about (a) symptoms such as dry cough, sore throat or difficulty breathing; (b) whether you traveled recently or (c) have been in contact with someone who may be sick with COVID-19.

 What is testing?

After the screening questions and temperature check, the health worker will decide whether you should be tested for COVID-19 and arrange for the test.  To do the test, the health worker will take a medical swab by passing a small tube inside your nose that brushes the back of your throat and nose. This is called a nasopharyngeal swab and analysis of the swab in a laboratory can show whether you have COVID-19 infection or not. The testing does not involve an injection, taking of blood or any other kind of procedure.

After the test, the health worker will inform you of the results. This usually takes 1 to 3 days. If you are positive for COVID-19, you will be advised whether you need treatment and how best to prevent others getting the infection, particularly people at home or people with whom you would normally come into contact. You will need to isolate yourself till you are no longer infectious.

It is important to remember that testing for COVID-19 is safe. It is not only safe, but it is also your human right to get access to testing.

Is there vaccination against COVID-19?

 Testing for COVID-19 is not the same as vaccination for COVID-19. Vaccination is a process we do for some infectious diseases (such as measles or TB).  There are currently NO vaccines against COVID-19 and there are NO vaccine trials happening in South Africa. If a vaccine were to be developed, it would need to be tested first in carefully designed trials. Anyone participating in a trial would only be allowed to participate if they gave informed consent.

It is true that medical scientists all over the world are working on a vaccine. But at the moment, there is nothing ready for testing or use.  There is a flu vaccine which does not act against COVID-19 but can help to prevent other forms of flu. 

 It is important that we have trials in Africa of vaccines for COVID-19 because there might be differences unique to African populations. If we do not study it in Africa, it may never benefit African populations, meaning other populations will benefit from a vaccine but not Africans.

 Is there treatment for COVID-19?

At the moment there is no proven treatment for COVID-19.  Medical care at the moment is aimed at supporting people who are sick by providing medication for pain or temperature and providing support and monitoring in hospital if needed. 

 Most people who have COVID-19 will not need to be admitted to hospital. Many people may be able to manage the illness at home, with support from the health department.

Elderly people and those with other illnesses may become more ill. 

About 5 to 15 of every 100 people may need hospital care and oxygen to help them breathe. 

 There are drugs currently used for other illnesses which scientists think may be effective to treat COVID-19. But we cannot know if they are effective unless we study them. That is why the World Health Organisation is running a medical research study in many countries to test drugs.

South Africa is one of many countries where these studies are being done. The South African studies are only being done in registered and monitored hospitals. Anyone who is approached to participate will be asked for their permission. You cannot be forced to participate against your will because every participant in a research study in South Africa can only participate if they give informed consent.

 The results of these studies are not ready yet. But as soon as they are available, the results will help us treat patients with COVID-19 and reduce the number of people who die as a result.

 Should you agree to be tested?

 Yes, because testing can help to protect your health and the health of those around you. If a health worker has screened you and advises a test, the best you can do for your health and for the safety of those close to you is to take the test. 

Knowing whether you are positive for COVID-19 will help protect you and your loved ones from becoming very ill from the disease. 

You will also help our entire society to manage this epidemic better because we can quickly find people who may be sick. This will mean that fewer people die and also that we can all return to work and school as soon as possible. 

 To be safe from COVID-19 is your human right

 You have the right to information but fake news is not information because it is inaccurate and misleading – fake news is a violation of your right.

 You also have the right to health, which the United Nations (UN) defines as the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Testing for COVID-19 will protect your rights to health and that of people around you.

 And you also have the right to benefit from medical science – when the research into COVID-19 treatment is completed, you must be able to get the best treatment that works, and when the research into a COVID-19 vaccine is completed, you must be able to get access to a safe vaccine that protects your life.

 We need to unite, to be a community that expresses solidarity in working together to overcome COVID-19. Don’t be misled by fake news by people who want to divide us.


For accurate information about COVID-19 please see: NICD, NDOH WHO websites


If you receive information that you suspect to be fake news, report it to or WhatsApp 067 966 4015


For further media comment, contact these members of the Health Working Group of the Coalition:

Professor Leslie London

079 189 6368

Dr Lydia Cairncross

082 786 7014

Read the C19 People’s Coalition’s Programme of Action here. The list of organisations that have endorsed the Programme of Action is available here




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