Bulawayo Battling With Covid-19 Testing Backlog
13 May 2020
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State Media|THE Covid-19 testing laboratory in Bulawayo is struggling to clear a backlog of cases after being overwhelmed with samples following increased tests nationally, a development that is also affecting retests to establish whether patients have recovered.

Sources said at some point, the backlog had surpassed 500 cases.

The backlog is even affecting suspected Covid-19 patients who are told to self-isolate while waiting for results.

As of yesterday afternoon, Bulawayo had 12 positive Covid-19 cases and one of them was fatal.

The situation has seen Bulawayo delaying retesting the 11 other Covid-19 patients to check if they have recovered.

Bulawayo’s Covid-19 testing started at Mpilo Central Hospital’s National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory last month after the National University of Science and Technology’s (Nust) Applied Genetic Testing Centre (AGTC) moved in some of its equipment to complement Government efforts in fighting the pandemic.

The laboratory is supposed to conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for Bulawayo, Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Midlands and Masvingo.

Acting Bulawayo Provincial Medical Director Dr Welcome Mlilo confirmed the surge in Covid-19 samples which the laboratory was not capacitated to handle.

Dr Mlilo declined to reveal the actual number of samples yet to be tested.

“The ministry’s directive to increase testing occurred when our lab was not well capacitated to deal with that sudden jump on the number of tests. So, we are now putting things in place to normalise the situation. We are now optimising our lab which involves taking some testing components from labs around the country as part of Covid-19 response. We are engaging other labs with components that they are not using but that are suitable for testing,” said Dr Mlilo.

He said he could not immediately reveal some of the required consumables as they required laboratory scientists to properly explain.

Dr Mlilo said he did not have the actual date of when the numbers started increasing.

“I do not have the dates but it happened when we started testing everyone when Government said we should test all frontline workers, everyone admitted to hospitals so the samples increased. But we are now reacting to that and we are putting all components in place and we should be operating optimally by the end of the week. The lab struggled to deal with that number so we are realigning our system to deal with surge in numbers,” Dr Mlilo.

Speaking during the acceptance of two ventilators donated by Harare City Council at City Hall yesterday, Bulawayo City Council health director Dr Edwin Sibanda said challenges at the Covid-19 testing laboratory in Bulawayo were delaying confirmations status of Covid-19 patients in the city.

“All our Covid-19 patients are stable but we are waiting for the labs to certify them. The biggest challenge with this outbreak is that the laboratory is central to the diagnosis and discharge of patients.

“We can’t say you have Covid-19 or you don’t until we test you and that applies also to discharging patients. So, some of these patients do not feel anything, some never felt anything but the point is tests showed that they have the virus,” said Dr Sibanda.

“It is the lab which should also confirm that they no longer have the virus. And now once you have a problem at the lab it means you cannot tell if they are recovering or not.

“The labs must function for this whole thing to work. Because even after testing, you still need to retest to establish if patients are negative. All our patients are due for retesting, and samples have gone. The principle of discharge is saying we must test you after 14 days.”

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, a positive patient needs to be tested twice after 24 hours to confirm whether they have recovered.

Said Dr Sibanda: “If found negative the first time we have to wait a minimum of 24 hours and repeat the PCR test. If the two tests which are a minimum of 24 hours apart show that you are negative then you are discharged or classified as recovered. For some the first test was collected and still has not been processed hence there is no point in going for the second one before results are out.”