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PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department has planned to make the dengue section of the Provincial Reference Laboratory functional earlier than planned to ensure the credible diagnosis of the mosquito-borne disease.

The facility was slated to open in Sept but it will now begin function early next month.

There has been growing controversy over the confirmation of dengue haemorrhagic fever cases in the provincial hospital, especially the Khyber Teaching Hospital, due to the non-existence of any authentic investigation system.

Facility slated to open in Sept will begin function next month

Until now, the KTH had confirmed three deaths from the vector-borne disease, all belonging to Tehkal area from where it has also tested positive around 1,000 cases during the last three weeks.

While the health department said there was only one confirmed death of a young woman from Tehkal, while the two others had died from causes other than dengue fever.

The KTH, which receives a bulk of the patients from the infected area, is using kits for rapid screening of the disease, which, the health department said, wasn’t an appropriate manner to confirm the illness.

To cope with the issue, the health department had requested the National Institute of Health Islamabad and the World Health Organisation to make operational the dengue section of the reference lab by the first week of August so that it could perform tests on the suspected patients.

Earlier, the health department had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Khyber Medical University, NIH and WHO to establish the provincial public health reference laboratory within two months, said Dr Shaheen Afridi, deputy director (public health).

She told Dawn that the NIH had accepted the department’s request to speed up the establishment of the dengue section at the KMU so that it could begin authentic investigation of the suspected patients.

“We have already started preparation to establish the reference lab at the KMU to provide critical diagnostic support during outbreaks and ensure evidence-based monitoring of infectious diseases’ trend besides using the same for training purposes of our health staff,” she said.

Dr Shaheen said the department needed the support for diagnosis of dengue fever because the rapid tests couldn’t be substitute for the PCR, which were done at the NIH only.

“We have sent a dozen samples from suspected persons from Pishtakhara village in Peshawar to the NIH but the results will take time to come,” she said.

She said most of the tests done on rapid kit screening produced false results.

In Feb, the KP health department designated the premises at the KMU as provincial public health reference laboratory with a view to prevent, detect and respond to potential public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks in line with the WHO’s international health regulations under which its member countries are required to do so.

The officials said until 2015, the WHO used to collect samples from the suspected dengue patients and send the same to NIH Islamabad, the results of which were made available within a week.

They however said the hospitals then stopped sending the specimens to NIH because it took longer to see the results and instead began using rapid kits for dengue fever despite the fact that NIH was the only reference lab for such investigation.

The officials said the health department had realised that rapid kits used at the hospitals were cause of worry both for the government and general public and requested the WHO to expedite work on the dengue section of the reference lab to be able to cope with the situation.

They said the tests done on rapid kits weren’t recognised by the WHO and therefore, the standard treatment protocol couldn’t be applied.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2017