PCR test kits procured by Nepal Army incompatible with most Nepali laboratoriesHealth Ministry officials say that around 28,000 PCR test kits purchased by the Nepal Army do not work with most PCR testing machines, which could lead testing rates to decline.
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits procured by the Nepal Army from China are incompatible with most testing machines in the country, according to the Health Ministry officials.
According to Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, the test kits supplied by the army cannot be used in many of the country’s laboratories, including at the National Public Health Laboratory, the central laboratory that tests large numbers of specimens collected from the districts.
“We have tried to use those test kits in big laboratories but have been unable to as they do not fit into the PCR machines we have available,” Pokhrel told the Post. “We are now trying to use them in hospitals that directly collect the specimens.”
According to an official at the Health Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity, almost all attempts to use the 28,000 kits procured by the Nepal Army have failed, with less than a hundred kits used so far at the Bir Hospital laboratory.
“We are worried that those kits may expire if they are not used,” said the official. “We have tried and discussed with experts about their use but have not been able to find a way out.”
According to the official, the PCR kits supplied by the army use 1ml viral transport media, but most machines in the 22 laboratories operating across the country use 3ml viral transport media.
“We have not used the PCR test kits bought by the Nepal Army as they do not fit in our machines,” Dr Runa Jha, director at the National Public Health Laboratory, told the Post.
After the tender with Omni Business Corporate International was annulled by the Department of Health Services in early April due to allegations of corruption and irregularities, the Nepal Army was roped in to procure medical equipment necessary to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic through a government-to-government deal.
The Army had subsequently brought in 28,000 PCR test kits from China and handed them over to the Health Ministry in May.
"We have around 55,000 PCR test kits in stock," Dr Dipendra Raman Singh, director-general of the Department of Health Services, told the Post. “We are requesting suppliers to deliver additional test kits at the earliest."
The department has signed a deal to procure additional 150,000 test kits, and the supplier has committed to deliver them on Wednesday, according to Health Ministry officials.
With laboratories across the country performing an average of 6,000 tests a day, the usable test kits, which now number around 27,000, will soon run out. There are an additional 30,000 test kits donated by the government of the Tibet Autonomous Province some two months ago, but these too have remained unused due to their incompatibility with Nepal’s PCR machines, said the Health Ministry official.
Nepal Army spokesperson Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey, however, said that the Army had purchased the test kits as per the specification provided by the Health Ministry.
"We bought the equipment and reagents as per the specifications made by the Health Ministry, " Pandey told the Post. "I know nothing about this issue. It is the Health Ministry officials who can answer."
Officials at the Health Ministry admitted that the test kits were incompatible but refused to comment on the specifications they had provided to the Nepal Army.
"The fact that laboratories cannot use those kits does not mean that they are substandard, "said Dr Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson for the Health Ministry. "Those kits will be used in some compatible laboratories."
As of Monday, 181,371 PCR tests had been performed throughout the country. Gautam said that the Health Ministry would perform 400,000 PCR tests in the coming months.
"We plan to perform over 400,000 PCR tests in the coming days. All the test kits will be used," said Gautam. “We will not let the number of tests decline due to a lack of test kits.”As of Monday 9561 people have tested positive for Covid-19, including 23 deaths.