PESHAWAR: Non-supply of additional kits has been hampering Khyber Medical University’s plan to start third laboratory and scale up its testing capacity to diagnose the Covid-19 cases in the province, according to sources.

The public sector Khyber Medical University (KMU) has been catering to the diagnostic needs of the whole province during the ongoing pandemic and has so far analysed 2,100 samples including 405 cases of April 5.

“Its plan to increase its capacity in view of the growing suspected cases is yet to see light of the day,” officials told this scribe. The university has completed training of staff for third lab but non-supply of kits is the only hurdle in its functioning and increasing its capacity to 600.

As the province is reporting more suspected cases of coronavirus from all districts, the university requires performing more tests and helping the patients as well as the health department.

700 kits received last week were rejected after quality check

Officials said that government was also trying to further strengthen Public Health Reference Laboratory of KMU that rescued the provincial government in the current Covid-19 pandemic.

KMU has been the prime source of investigating the Covid-19 cases as it receives samples from nook and corners of the province and delivers the results the same day.

The PHRL at KMU had initially test capacity of 40 that was raised after a visit by Chief Secretary Dr Kazim Niaz last week as he ordered to enhance services in view of the rise in suspected Covid-19 cases.

The chief secretary also released Rs10 million for the purpose immediately that enabled the university to procure all the equipments required to enhance its capacity by establishing two more laboratories each with as many bio-safety cabinets, auto extractor, PCR machines.

At present, there are two conventional PCR laboratories with the capacity of around 300 tests per day.

KMU receives kits from National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad on regular basis for free diagnosis of patients sent to it by the health department. It has been looking for more kits to conduct more tests and ensure that the health department receives timely report and decides about the suspected and confirmed cases of coronavirus.

KMU developed third laboratory for which it acquired as many rapid PCR machines three weeks ago. The first batch of testing kits for the rapid PCR machines was delivered last week.

As a standard protocol, before using the kits quality check was conducted and the kits were found unsatisfactory and hence these were rejected.

According to supplier of the kits, the cargo plane was made to wait for one week at Dubai airport so the possible breakage of cold chain might have caused damage to kits. Subsequently, the first batch of 700 kits was rejected due to which the new rapid PCR laboratory is yet to start function.

Officials said when a fresh batch would be supplied, they would again as per quality standards check those kits and if found satisfactory the new laboratory would start operations. The NIH kits have been of high quality but the recent batch was rejected on scientific basis.

KMU Vice-chancellor Prof Arshad Javaid told Dawn that they were dependent on the kits that appeared to be in short supply due to massive demand of the rapid test all over the world. He said that they were waiting for supply of kits to conduct more tests per day.

“The massive demand for tests has been increasing day by day with spread of the infection,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2020