Incompatible PCR test kits will raise infection risk, Parsa health officials warnPCR tests have been halted at the Narayani Hospital in Birgunj since Monday for a lack of compatible PCR test kits.
The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) lab at the Narayani Hospital in Birgunj is closed since Monday, as the PCR test kits supplied by the federal Ministry of Health and Population are incompatible with the machine.
A total of 1,300 swab samples deposited at the lab have now been sent to the National Public Health Laboratory in Teku, Kathmandu, for testing.
According to Dr Madan Kumar Upadhyay, chief medical superintendent at the hospital, the lab also lacks reagent chemicals and RNA extraction but the pressing issue is the incompatibility of the kits with the machine.
“The PCR test kits supplied from Kathmandu doesn’t match with the machine we have,” Upadhyay said. “We have notified the national public health lab about the issue.”
The hospital, however, has received no response yet, he said.
On Monday, health ministry officials said that around 28,000 PCR test kits purchased by the Nepal Army aren't compatible with most PCR testing machines. According to one health ministry 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.
In early April, a tender with Omni Business Corporate International was annulled by the Department of Health Services following allegations of corruption and irregularities against the company. Subsequently, 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 incompatibility of the testing kits will have serious ramifications in highly affected districts like Rautahat and Parsa, health officials say. Rautahat has the highest Covid-19-infected patients in the country, with 1,159 cases as of Tuesday evening; Parsa has 158 cases, with one death.
Narayani lab was used not just to test swab samples from Parsa, but also from other neighbouring districts such as Bara, Rautahat and Sarlahi. The lab has so far tested as many as 7,299 swab samples.
In the past two months, the Narayani hospital has received PCR kits from eight different companies, all of which were compatible with the hospital's machine, according to Upadhyay. But the kits recently cannot be used with the machine owned by the hospital.
The kits are incompatible not just in Narayani lab but in all other labs across the country, including in Koshi, Chitwan, Hetauda and even the Kathmandu-based National Public Health Lab.
The closure of the lab will have both short-term and long-term consequences, Upadhyay, the medical superintendent, said. “This will delay the testing of thousands of people who might have been infected with the coronavirus,” he said, adding that it will lead to increased transmission of the virus as the infected may move around their communities freely while awaiting their test results. “It will allow the virus to run rampant through the communities in the district while many await their results.”