KARACHI: The Sindh health department’s decision to temporarily ban Covid-19 screening for patients less than 60 years of age, asymptomatic and without co-morbidities at public labs raised serious question about the health system of the province amid rising number of Covid-19 cases.

The provincial authorities rushed to meet the approaching challenge and decided to import almost a million testing kits within a week to maintain its capacity.

Officials and sources said on Friday that the decision was made to expedite the import of testing kits and it was hoped that the kits would be available at the public and private hospitals within a week. However, they insisted that the province still had a stock to maintain its capacity of daily testing.

Testing capacity reaches 18,000

“The province has reached the capacity of conducting 18,000 tests per day,” said an official. “We are still conducting lesser than the capacity tests. However, the rise in the number of patients and the pace at which we are seeing this growing, it has been decided to import 960,000 testing kits at the earliest. The process has been expedited and you would see hopefully within a few days, we would be receiving the consignments.”

Only on Thursday, the Sindh health department had banned Covid-19 screening of people below 60, asymptomatic patients and those without co-morbidities at public labs without mentioning any reasonable logic behind the move.

Shortage of kits forces govt to impose restriction of Covid-19 testing by public sector labs

“For timely processing [of] Covid-19 tests at public sector laboratories, only Covid-19 suspects of more than 60 years age, having symptoms and suffering from co-morbidities will undergo PCR testing at public sector laboratories till further orders,” said a notification issued by the health department, adding that the persons who did not fall into the abovementioned category, including those having a contact history, should be advised to go for self-quarantine duly supervised by health staff for at least 14 days.

“Testing on educational faculty and students will be undertaken if they are symptomatic. Once antigen tests are available at the health department, all symptomatic suspect cases and educational institution contacts will have tests done for antigen. The PCR will remain reserved for Category No 1 patients. Travellers are advised to have their Covid-19 testing done at their own expenses from private labs,” said the provincial health department notification.

Sources said many private and public sector hospitals offering coronavirus testing were facing shortage of kits and had gone out of stock since they didn’t foresee the situation.

“Majority of the labs — whether it’s in private or public sector — are facing shortage of testing kits,” said a source. “We believe this shortage is temporary but still it pushed the Sindh health department to issue fresh advisory for testing protocols. With the process for import of around a million kits expedited by the Sindh government, we hope that ban would be lifted within next few days and testing facility would be available for everyone.”

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2020