PESHAWAR: The health department has directed the medical teaching institutions and district headquarters hospitals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to send samples from the suspected patients of cholera, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever and influenza to the Public Health Reference Lab at the Khyber Medical University for free testing.

“We have issued directives to obtain samples from the suspected people and dispatch them to the PHRL to know about the prevalence of infectious and killer diseases, including cholera, measles, Congo fever and influenza. The lab is receiving specimens from all health facilities of the province round the clock,” a health official told Dawn.

According to him, the department recently controlled many disease outbreaks by early testing and prompt action, so it is important to test more and more people, especially those in flood-hit areas to stem the spread of infections.

The official said the recent flash floods had heightened epidemic risks.

Hospitals told to send cholera, Congo fever, flu samples to PHRL for free testing

Inaugurating the PHRL two months ago, Chief Minister Mahmood Khan had said that samples of infectious diseases were sent out of the province delaying the response to epidemics but the establishment of microbiology and serology laboratories had ensure the speedy availability of test results.

When contacted, PHRL director Dr Yasar Yousafzai said upgradation of services was an ongoing process meant to detect the prevalence of diseases and enable the health department to take speedy action to prevent the outbreak of diseases.

“We do all tests free of charge. The provincial government has developed this lab, which conducts the tests for which samples were previously sent to the National Institute of Health, Islamabad,” he said.

Dr Yousafzai said besides checking samples from suspected cholera cases, the lab also conducted water analysis to detect Vibrio cholerae, especially in the aftermath of flash floods, which are the main reason for the spread of water-borne diseases.

“Bad data leads to bad policy, while good data means good policy, so more diagnosis is essential to detect infections and respond accordingly,” he said.

The PHRL director said dermatologists should send samples of monkeypox, a skin disease, which spread by skin-to-skin or face-to-face contact and had been declared by the World Health Organisation as the public health emergency of international concern.

“Monkeypox cases have been reported in over 100 countries, including our neighbour India,” he said.

Dr Yousafzai said physicians in hospitals complained that typhoid patients weren’t responsive to certain antibiotics, so lab scientists were doing salmonella typhoid culture sensitivity, which enlisted the efficacy of different antibiotics, enabling the treating doctors to select the right drug.

He said the PHRL had tested some specimens of suspected influenza cases but they’re found to be negative.

”We need more samples from hospitals as part of government’s policy for stronger surveillance,” he said.

PHRL additional director Dr Asif Ali told Dawn that culture sensitivity determined the microbial resistance to any prescription antibiotics, ensured better treatment and cut down ‘out-of-pocket’ patient expenditure.

He said the KMU, which began the Covid-19 testing after the start of the infection in early 2020, had so far conducted 1.7 million PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test of coronavirus patients from 24 districts.

“We helped health department establish 12 PCR labs in different districts. The exercise cost was Rs250 million, which otherwise would have been Rs8 billion in private labs,” he said.

KMU Vice-Chancellor Prof Ziaul Haq told Dawn that the PHRL’s expansion helped epidemic surveillance, especially of Covid-19, dengue and other diseases, mainly with the government’s support.

He said the lab would also cover measles, hepatitis B and C and HIV/Aids in future.

“The continuous support of the health department has enabled us to carry out investigations of international standard and help the government take timely measures for disease prevention,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2022

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