Rapid testing kits only for use in case of a massive outbreak, says Health MinistryAmid concerns about the efficacy, quality and cost of the kits purchased from China, the ministry has said that it will be testing them before use.
After forbidding private laboratories from using rapid diagnostic kits for Covid-19 tests, the Health Ministry itself has purchased thousands of such kits, spending millions from state coffers. And they might not even be of any immediate use.
“We have purchased 75,000 such test kits from China,” Dr Khem Karki, the health minister’s advisor, told the Post. “Though they are not recommended by the UN health agency, they are being used in European countries and are permitted by the US’ Food and Drug Administration.”
The United States’ Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of a two-minute coronavirus test developed by the company Bodysphere, not the ones purchased by the Nepal government from China. Rapid test kits are neither recommended for Covid-19 tests by the World Health Organization nor by the Health Ministry itself or the Department of Drug Administration.
As each test kit costs $8, the government has spent at least $600,000 in just purchasing the 75,000 kits from China.
A number of European countries, including Spain, the Netherlands and Turkey, recently recalled thousands of pieces of Chinese-made medical equipment, including testing kits and face masks, for being defective or sub-standard.
Karki himself had dismissed the efficacy of rapid test kits, in a press briefing on Tuesday, saying that they were not reliable and were not recommended by the World Health Organization.
When pressed on his contradictory statements, Karki said that private labs are fleecing the public with rapid testing and they had only been purchased for use in case of a massive outbreak.
“We have purchased rapid diagnostic kits for use during a massive outbreak when the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method will not be quick enough,” he said. “We have not distributed those kits yet. We will first validate them and use them only if they are found compatible in our context.”
Health care workers have so far been performing PCR tests on nasal and throat swabs from patients suspected of having Covid-19.
Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, director-general of the Department of Health Services, confirmed that the rapid diagnostic kits imported from China had been dispatched to the Nepal Health Research Council for testing.
“Rapid test kits do not give 100 percent correct results,” Shrestha told the Post. “But even if they give about 90 percent accurate results, we will use them in case of a massive outbreak. They have been purchased as a defensive measure.”
Nineteen categories of medical equipment purchased from China—including rapid diagnostic kits and personal protective equipment—have all been sent to various government labs for testing.
“We will return any items that have defects,” said Shrestha.
According to officials at the Nepal Health Research Council, which is conducting tests on the rapid testing kits, the efficacy of the test kits varies with temperature.
“A rapid test kit made for the mountainous region does not provide an accurate result if used in the hot temperature of the Tarai,” Dr Megnath Dhimal, chief researcher at the Council, told the Post. “We will carry out temperature testing and inform the government accordingly.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 30, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 213 countries and infected more than 6,029,950 people with 366,802 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 173,491 with 4,980 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 64,028 confirmed cases with 1,317 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 1401 cases with six deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.