In Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, travellers rely on negative Covid-19 test results fraudulently obtained to be accepted onboard flights. Networks of counterfeiters have indeed been set up in these countries with the dismal intention of profiting from the new global health situation imposed by the Covid-19. To do this, all the dysfunctions and flaws in the local health systems are fully exploited.
At the start of the pandemic, each country had set the conditions for entering and leaving its territory. The three Sahelian States namely: Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, like the other countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) have harmonized these conditions. But on March 25, 2021, the heads of state of UEMOA took two decisions to harmonize the conditions for air travel in space. Thus, any traveller by air, to leave or access the territories of the eight countries of the Union, must present a negative Covid-19 screening test, the amount of screening tests for which is set at 25,000 FCFA and the validity of the tests. is five days from the date the sample was taken.
As soon as boarding an aircraft is conditioned by the presentation onboarding and disembarking of a negative Covid-19 test certificate, in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, travellers are firing on all cylinders. to obtain this precious sesame, sometimes fraudulently. “Real, but fake PCR tests”, with malicious people who are only thinking of making money.
Burkina Faso recorded its first case of Covid-19 on March 9, 2020. On March 20, 2020, while around forty infected people were recorded, including one death, the government took a series of measures among which, the closure of air borders to commercial flights, for a period of two weeks, with the exception of domestic and military flights and freight. This measure to close air borders to commercial flights has been extended until August 1, 2020, the date of the reopening of air borders.
In the two neighbouring states, Niger and Mali, it was almost at the same time that the evil appeared with its procession of damage forcing the authorities to take their responsibility.
In Niger, on the reopening of air borders, obtaining the boarding card is conditional on the presentation of a negative passenger Covid-19 test certificate, according to police sources from Niamey airport. The same observation was made in Bamako and Ouagadougou.
The Nigerien government, at the end of the Council of Ministers of May 27, 2021, in accordance with the decision of the heads of state of the UEMOA, to harmonize the conditions of travel in space, fixed the costs of the Covid tests -19 travellers by air at 25,000 FCFA. The validity of said tests is five days.
“Real false” Covid-19 tests
Burkina Faso has experienced three stages in the billing of Covid-19 passenger tests including a first free period (August to December 2020), a second payment period of 50,000 FCFA (December 2020 to May 2021) and a third payment period to 25,000 FCFA (since May 2021).
In this country, several sampling sites have been set up in nine administrative regions of the country which has 13. The analyzes are carried out in several laboratories. The flaws in the system have allowed the issuance of false certificates of Covid-19 tests: “false tests” according to the testimonies of several travellers: A real business has developed around the coronavirus.
Likewise, several sampling centres are scattered around Niamey in Niger. “But only the laboratory of the Medical and Health Research Center (CERMES), attached to the Ministry of Public Health is authorized for the analyzes”, explains a laboratory assistant at CERMES. The CERMES laboratory has a processing capacity of 500 samples per day, which has never been reached. Test results are available 4-6 hours later, depending on the number of samples to be analyzed. At the end of this process, the applicant is thus fixed on his fate.
Bamako, for its part, is home to four laboratories authorized to carry out analyzes of samples. But the device for carrying out PCR tests is managed by the National Institute for Public Health Research (INRSP) which acts as an anti-Covid-19 response centre. More than a thousand sample samples are thus analyzed daily by the INSP. Objective: the negative Covid-19 test certificate. The INRSP is sometimes overwhelmed and refuses people every day.
This monopoly and this exclusivity of the INRSP, which issues the Covid-19 test certificates, conceals pecuniary issues. The long lines of applicants are bypassed thanks to the complicity of certain agents who engage in unsavoury practices. Information gathered from the beneficiaries of these services makes it possible to establish that these agents take advantage of the lack of control system to authenticate “fraudulent false tests”.
Negotiating to extract at all costs and in a short time a negative screening test is a battle in which more than one traveller is then engaged in Mali. At the turn of fruitful secret negotiations, the famous “laissez-passer” is obtained. Here, the cap or title of the client is enough to give him diligent treatment in return for a substantial bribe.
The traveller who misses his flight in Mali can easily have his negative result obtained several days before. According to the regulars of the system, it suffices for him to slip 12,500 F CFA, corresponding to the half-price of the test.
This day Monday, June 7, 2021, between 8:30 am and 12 noon (start and end times of sampling operations), to escape the long queues, around thirty users are received on the sly, in the sampling room. They had access to it through another entrance. Inside, they are taken care of. The payment of the costs of the tests is made between the hands of four agents operating in the collection room. Without receipt, please.
Several users report having benefited from the same largesse against hard cash. Which says a lot about the power of silver in the sphere of PCR testing in Mali.
“Negative” results of convenience
In Burkina Faso, during the free admission, testifies a traveller, he went to the Pogbi maternity in Ouagadougou on a Thursday morning for a test. His trip takes place on Saturday morning. It is 9:00 am; a member of staff informs him that the withdrawals have ended. In addition, he cannot have his results before 72 hours, that is to say before Sunday. Apparently informed of the existence of the network of Covid19 test counterfeiters, he lets most of the agents go and exposes his time constraint to one of them. The latter still has three collection tubes available. He can therefore take it, especially since the laboratory has not yet gone to take the samples. On Friday evening, confesses to this traveller, he came into possession of his negative test result and was able to make his trip against payment of a tip. How much is this negotiation? Lips are sealed. Was his test negative? Another traveller testifies that he gave money to an agent at another collection centre who then agreed to help him. In the afternoon, his test result is already available.“Even if he was positive, the agent would have scored negative,” he says because he gave him money.
Also according to the witness, while he was waiting for his test result with a certain outcome, negative in advance, a young female person arrived. She makes a phone call and a man goes to meet her. “ I was sent by…”. she said to him. She gives a sum of money to her interlocutor who takes her to the laboratory for the sample. She has an appointment in an hour for the results. The money was used to speed up the analysis of the test which will come out negative. According to the driver of a mining company, who arrived for the withdrawal of the results of his officials and who witnessed the scene: “Here it is like that. This is the deal of the agents. They take the money and do the tests as they see fit. Even if it’s positive, we put you negative and you travel ”.
It is when travellers were paying 50,000 FCFA for Covid-19 tests in Burkina Faso, that the “network” will set up for the issuance of “false Covid-19 negative traveller tests”.
We did the experiment in December 2020. Arrived at the airport sampling site around 7:00 am, the security officer informed us that the samples were stopped because the expected number per day had been reached. He advises us to come back the next morning very early, that is to say at 4:00 am. After an explanation of the urgency of the trip, he suggests seeing with “the chefs” to book a ticket against 25,000F CFA. The next morning we go for the ticket. After the sample, we needed to get the test result quickly.
An additional 25,000 FCFA is paid to a person to whom the security guard has communicated the sample number. The result was available in the afternoon. During this period, business was booming for this network because it coincided with the holiday season hence travel for many people. Not to mention that a shortage of collection kits has been observed.
In order to fight against the false, the Burkinabè government introduced a technological innovation that Boukary Ouédraogo, director of the information system of the ministry of health, presents. This is an application for accessing the results of passenger Covid-19 tests. This secure application sends Covid-19 test results to travellers’ mobile phones for download.
At the airport, the agents responsible for verifying test certificates from travellers scan using a tablet, the bar code appearing on the copy of the result to ensure its authenticity in order to avoid fraud.
This is not the case in Niger where the verification of the certificate is done with the naked eye. No technological device to check if the test was actually done at the CERMES laboratory or if the negative certificate was obtained after a sample. Furthermore, checking with the naked eye does not guarantee the reliability of the document presented.
Even with Burkina Faso’s electronic verification system, the agents who are members of the network make every effort to circumvent the system put in place. After collection, the traveller transmits the sample number plus an additional 25,000 CFA to a network member who enters the “negative” result into the system. At the time of control at the airport, the result turns out to be genuine.
Another circuit consists of paying 50,000 FCFA directly to the agent who takes the sample, after which the result of the test is necessarily negative. This technique has made people unhappy. Unsuccessful travellers have complained openly. As a solution, it was decided to educate users. At the collection sites, posters warn that it is necessary to “always require a receipt after any payment”.
Upon analysis, the breakdowns of sample kits, the long delays in obtaining the results were created expressly to channel travellers to the networks of corrupt agents, in search of easy gain in Burkina Faso.
The absence of sanctions would also be one of the causes of the development of the phenomenon of corruption in the three countries. Added to this is the poor support for staff mobilized in the fight against Covid-19: insufficient compensation and delay in the payment of these emoluments, according to the people concerned in Burkina Faso.
By way of illustration, for the response against Covid-19, the Burkinabè government has recruited volunteers. In the urban centre of the Baskuy health district in Ouagadougou, according to the information collected from these volunteers, support has increased from 7,500 FCFA per day for 30 days to 5,000 FCFA per day for 15 days. Confer interministerial decree N ° 2021-065 / MS / MERSI / MINEFID of April 9, 2021, setting the duration, number and rate of remuneration for actors involved in the fight against Covid-19.
Despite the 24-hour strike movement that took place in May 2021, to denounce the situation, and which resulted in postponements or cancellations of trips, the staff did not succeed. The movement was quickly nipped in the bud. However, he highlighted the role of these actors in the response health system, the sampling centres were overwhelmed.
Unpunished facts so far
Asked why the management of the INSP in Mali does not react to the bad practices of some of the agents in the name of money, an employee who requested anonymity evokes a network whose roots go to the – beyond the agents operating on the site.
Our interlocutor mentions the hypothesis of deceit but does not confirm the existence of parallel receipts: “People increasingly evoke the existence of parallel receipts, I am not aware of them. If receipts are issued to users who access the blood collection room by the back door, they do not emanate from the public treasury ”, according to Prof. Akory Ag Iknane.
Faced with this ambient business around the structure that he has been piloting for almost two years, Prof. Akory Ag Iknane prefers to remain silent when approached by journalists on the question of the transparency or not of the screening and issuance operations. Covid-19 testing travel certificates.
Neither the Ministry of Health of Mali nor even less the health services of Bamako Airport seem to be aware of these practices. In the six high courts of Bamako, no trace of a case relating to the counterfeiting of Covid-19 tests or to the shenanigans surrounding the system.
In Burkina Faso, the situation is the same. Despite this situation of ambient corruption, on the side of the Ouagadougou prosecutor’s office, a source indicates that the file introduced following a request from the Ministry of Health is still under investigation.
Niger has not yet registered any cases of a counterfeit Covid-19 test certificate. “We had rumours. But we have not yet seen a forged test certificate, ” said a source on the Covid committee. “It is possible to have a circuit,” he admits. “But officially, there are no fake certificates,” he said. “Once, the security services at Lomé airport seized us in relation to a Covid-19 test certificate from Niger. This is a certificate whose date has been falsified, it ticked (sic) the control service which seized us, ” explained the CERMES laboratory technician.
On the side of justice, we also remain adamant about the existence of any file on false Covid-19 tests or a forged certificate: “Not for the moment! We have not been seized of that yet, ” says a judicial source.
If Niger has so far been spared from falsified test certificates, this may be linked to the category of applicants. The test and presentation of a negative certificate are required for those who are to fly. However, this means of transport is rarely used by a category of travellers.
Survey carried out by Joël BOUDA (Burkina Faso), David DEMBELE (Mali) and Aboubacar SANI (Niger) with the support of the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO)