June 29 deadline missed: Is ramping up PCR tests still possible?

Rita Lamsal

June 29, 2020


June 29 deadline missed: Is ramping up PCR tests still possible?

Coronavirus test/File Photo


KATHMANDU: Almost six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of tests in Nepal remains woefully inadequate.

In such a situation, will the government fulfill its assurances of arranging 10,000 PCR tests per day from today? Perhaps not, as the government has missed the deadline!

If the assurance of Minister for Health and Population Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal is to be considered, the ministry has to expand the capacity of PCR tests to make it 10,000 per day from today.

The government has been widely criticized for being ‘incompetent’ to accelerate the tests as the number of COVID-19 cases has crossed 12,700 on Sunday afternoon.

Experts have to believe that the current number of tests is not enough to track new infections adequately and drastically insufficient.

Considering Minister Dhakal’s announcement in mind, the Ministry, Department of Health Service and various laboratories have been preparing to expand their test capacities.

Currently, as many as 22 laboratories across the country are executing the PCR test against coronavirus.
On June 26, the Health Ministry decided to let 10 more labs to carry out PCR tests.

However, considering the progress made so far, even the officials at the Ministry are skeptical about the possibility of meeting the target of 10,000 tests per day.

The Ministry has included Mechi Hospital, Dadeldhura Hospital, Dailekh Hospital, National Ayurvedic and Training Center, Armed Police Hospital, Palpa Hospital, Dhaulagiri Hospital, Dhankuta Hospital, Birendra Police Hospital and Military Hospital in the list to carry out PCR tests.

Sources claim that the Ministry has intensified infrastructure development, human resource management and arrangement of coronavirus test kits as well.

According to Dr. Deependra Raman Singh, the Director-General of Department of Health Service, the Ministry has a stock of test kits sufficient enough for the tests for at least two weeks provided it goes at the rate of 10,000 tests per day.

“We have got sufficient health supplies required to conduct 10,000 PCR tests per day,” he told Khabarhub.
Dr. Gautam, the spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population concurred Dr Singh saying that the government has intensified preparations so as to incapacitate labs to test 10,000 PCR a day.

“We have got 22 labs carrying out the tests now. Soon we will add 10 more labs in the list,” spokesperson Dr. Gautam said.

Yet, Dr. Gautam himself is skeptical about the target set for June 29. “We can’t say anything about fulfilling the June 29 target, but soon the capacity will be enhanced enough to make it 10,000 a day, we are working hard for it,” the spokesperson added.

Tests are still far below the target

According to the Ministry details, there had been only 7,406 PCR tests carried out on June 20, and since then the number is increasing except on June 27 on which day only 4,601 samples were tested through the PCR method.

The Ministry said there had been 6,800 tests on June 21; 6,198 on June 22; 4,995 on June 23 and 6,828 on June 24.

Similarly, there were 6543 PCR tests on June 25; 6,534 on June 26; some 4,601 on June 27, and the latest being 4,962 on Sunday carried out in different labs in the country.

Asked about the cause of fluctuation in the number of tests, Dr. Gautam said there are various factors such as public holidays or difficulties in swab collection affecting the number of tests.

“Sometimes, its Saturday, next time problems related to the collection or delivery of samples also affect the tests making them less,” he elaborated.

“Besides, the management of all these factors also play a vital role. Talking about capacity is not enough.”

Dr. Gautam added that provided the target is met, everything can be operated as mentioned in the Directives prepared by the Ministry.

He made it clear that the priority will be given to the returnees from various countries, having coronavirus symptoms and those who came in contact with the infected ones.

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