Collection of swab samples halted in SudurpaschimThe lone PCR machine in the province is being used to process only 150 samples a day. More than 1,600 collected swabs are yet to be processed.
As the number of coronavirus cases increases everyday, there’s pressure from all quarters to expedite testing. But, the Sudurpaschim government has written to district health offices in the province asking them to stop collecting swab samples citing that the lone polymerase chain reaction machine in the province can only process a certain number of samples per day
According to technicians at the Regional Public Health Laboratory, swab collection was halted as the lab already has 1,600 swab samples in line for testing. Although the laboratory, administered by the Seti Provincial Hospital, Dhangadhi, has a capacity to test 396 samples every day, only 150 samples are being tested so as not to “exhaust the machine.”.
Ram Prasad Ojha, acting director at Regional Public Health Laboratory, said, “It would take at least five days to process all samples collected so far.”
On April 2, a PCR machine was installed at the Seti Provincial Hospital to process swabs samples. The machine could only process up to eight samples a day. But on April 8, a PCR machine from the Central Veterinary Laboratory, Kathmandu, was brought to Dhangadi.
Although there were only a few Covid-19 infected individuals in Sudurpaschim province initially, the number of cases has been on the rise since May 15 after the Nepal-India border points were opened for migrants coming into the country.
Around 4,000 to 5,000 individuals are believed to have entered the province per day from Gauriphanta border point in Kailali district alone. The incoming traffic through Gaddachowki border point in Kanchanpur was also huge, but authorities did not test all the returnees for the virus.
“During the initial days, only 800 individuals underwent rapid diagnostic tests in Gauriphanta. Then we could not continue testing given the sheer number of people entering the province through various border points,” said Dr Gunaraj Awasthi, director at Sudurpaschim Health Directorate. “Due to a lack of testing at border points, infected individuals made their way into quarantine facilities.”
According to Sudurpaschim Health Directorate, two Covid-19 deaths have been reported in the province until Sunday whereas 108 individuals, including 17 women, have infected tested positive so far. Of the 108 infected individuals, 18 have returned homes after treatment.
Provincial officials say that only 8,919 swab samples have been collected in the entire province as of Sunday even when 65,000 individuals are staying in various quarantine facilities.
On March 28, the provincial government had officially declared the establishment of a coronavirus testing laboratory in Dhangadhi, Baitadi and Doti districts and also instructed the Sudurpaschim Logistics Management Centre to purchase PCR machines immediately.
But even after one-and-half months, the machines are yet to be procured. Siddharaj Bhatta, public health inspector at the Sudurpaschim Logistics Management Centre, said they had issued a tender to purchase three PCR machines, but are yet to procure any.
“On Monday, we again started the process to purchase three machines. This time we are going to purchase extraction PCR machines. This type of machine can extract up to 100 samples in an hour. We have launched an e-bid with a 10-day deadline.”
Meanwhile, Awasthi said that the new PCR machines will reach Dhangadhi within June 24 if the importer company supplies them on time. “But we are still short on physical infrastructure and human resources to run those machines. We have requested the respective districts to manage the infrastructure and human resources for now,” said Awasthi.