PESHAWAR: The health department is strengthening surveillance of diseases through timely investigations to deal with communicable ailments in the province, according to officials.

The integrated disease surveillance and response cell of the health department wants to ensure availability of diagnostic services for contagious diseases at the government laboratories and prevent outbreaks of ailments through timely measures.

“A PC-1 has been submitted by health department to seek approval of Rs900 million grant to increase testing of diseases and take prompt measures to prevent outbreaks,” said officials.

Of the requested amount, Rs200 million will be spent on upgradation of Public Health Reference Laboratory (PHRL) and launching new tests.

The laboratory was established by health department at the main campus of Khyber Medical University (KMU) in 2015 to diagnose 41 notifiable diseases and respond to outbreaks.

Health dept seeks Rs900 million grant to increase testing

The department had earlier sought Rs1.2 billion for upgaradation of Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) and enhancement of PHRL’s diagnostic capabilities to sustain detecting and diagnosis of Covid-19, dengue, multidrug resistant typhoid, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), influenza and cholera.

“The government has agreed on a revised programme,” said officials. PHRL is already conducting these tests free of cost for hospitals besides carrying out other investigations including that for measles and influenza to diagnose maximum number of infectious diseases.

“We plan to raise the number of tests for various communicable sicknesses from six to 12 at PHLR, they said. The programme also includes strengthening diseases’ surveillance at district level,” they said.

Officials said that 12 divisional labs, set up by health department in collaboration with Khyber Medical University after the onset of Covid-19 throughout the province, would also be equipped to perform tests of samples sent to them from the respective hospitals.

These laboratories can be utilised to test specimens for other contagious ailments in the province.

No case of Covid-19 was reported in the province for second consecutive day on Tuesday.

Officials said that the government had agreed on the budget to ensure quick test and facilitate quality treatment of people.

It is a part of the International Health Regulations that Uinted Nations member countries will have public health laboratories to be able to monitor and enable the field staff to take necessary measures to avert epidemics and ensure prevention and control.

“During the last floods, we saved outbreaks when we took action on basis of surveillance. Therefore, the department has also recommended to the government to make it regular part of the health budget instead of Annual Development Programme to establish permanent setup run by dedicated staff,” said officials.

Covid-19 cases have declined in most parts of the province except in Peshawar, Abbottabad, Mansehra and Lower Chitral due to which the laboratories have time to investigate diseases that can cause outbreaks.

“The department has also written to district health officers and medical superintendents to enhance testing of Covid-19 to ascertain a clear picture about the prevalence of pandemic,” they said.

The department has been facing the daunting challenge to enhance testing of suspected Covid-19 patients because it is not considered a life threat now as it did one year ago.

“Our workers say that they don’t find people to give swabs for Covid-19 investigation in the province and tests have gone below 100.

“The government has done away with Covid-19 standard operating procedures and there is no fear factor which adversely impacts the vaccination drive as well as sample collection,” said officials.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2023

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