Shortage of kits affecting testing capacity of Covid-19 labs in KP

Published October 15, 2020
Inconsistent supply of kits and non-existence of dedicated staff has adversely been affecting the capacity of the PCR Covid-19 laboratories in the province. — AFP/File
Inconsistent supply of kits and non-existence of dedicated staff has adversely been affecting the capacity of the PCR Covid-19 laboratories in the province. — AFP/File

PESHAWAR: Inconsistent supply of kits and non-existence of dedicated staff has adversely been affecting the capacity of the PCR Covid-19 laboratories in the province, according to sources.

“If the supply chain of kits is maintained regularly, then the province can conduct up to 7,000 Covid-19 tests per day. Presently, the number of swabs processed in the province is 4,000 only,” senior health officials in one of the high-risk districts told Dawn.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which began Covid-19 testing from 40 per day at Public Health Reference Laboratory (PHRL) in Khyber Medical University when the pandemic occurred early this year, has now the potential to conduct more than 3,000 tests but the main hindrance is non-availability of kits on regular basis.

Health secretary says issue will be resolved soon

Presently, 1,500 tests are conducted in KMU.

“The province has now 12 laboratories in public sector with 14 PCR machines along with three small machines but its outcome is much below the desired level also due to shortage of dedicated staff to work on permanent basis as the makeshift arrangements are hampering the outcome,” sources said.

Health Secretary Syed Imtiaz Hussain Shah told Dawn that the issue of shortage of Covid-19 PCR kits was taken up with National Command and Operation Centre and would soon be resolved. Similarly, regular staff was being provided to enable the laboratories to work continuously, he added.

Sources said that health department was also purchasing kits from the market from time to time that were supplied to the laboratories in line with their needs but there were complaints of shortage due to which the number of required tests couldn’t be conducted. The government is also finding it hard to purchase huge quantity of kits as its price ranges between Rs2,000 to Rs3,500.

“Regular testing of suspected people is part of the surveillance system to ascertain the level of prevalence of virus among the people and take precautionary measures. After testing, we isolate the positive people from the community so that the infection doesn’t transmit to the others,” said sources.

The World Health Organisation has been asking the province to enhance testing in schools and general population to be able to put brakes on the second wave of the virus, which is feared with the onset of the winter season.

The health department is also in the process of purchasing two new PCR machines for the PHRL in KMU where two of the four machines have gone out of order.

Sources said that the machines on which 150,000 tests were already conducted were also being repaired that would enhance the KMU capacity of testing to 2,000 per day from the present 1,500.

The KMU, which is spearheading the KP’s efforts to enhance testing, has also requested the WHO for two more machines to further strengthen its investigation capacity. The WHO has already provided six machines and related accessories and kits to KP, according to officials.

KP has so far conducted 413,694 tests of which more than 90 per cent were conducted in PHRL and it requires more machines, staff and consistent supply of kits to keep the tests going in accordance with its potentiality.

A report by health department on Wednesday said that a total of 39,470 samples were collected from schools since October 15 of which 398 tested positive and 32,182 were negative while the results of 6,890 were still awaited.

Sources said that there would be no wait for testing provided the government ensured regular supply of kits along with deployment of regular staff at the laboratories.

“These PCR labs have been established in Covid-19 crisis but these would be operating in future in dengue and other epidemic, therefore, require dedicated human resources,” they said.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2020

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