THE Covid-19 testing laboratory in Bulawayo, which has been struggling to clear a backlog of about 700 cases, has stopped conducting tests due to a critical shortage of consumables.
This was revealed yesterday by the director of the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) Applied Genetic Testing Centre, Mr Zephaniah Dhlamini. Mr Dhlamini made the remarks during a tour of Nust by Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation and Science Technology Development Deputy Minister Raymore Machingura to assess the university’s state of preparedness in response to the fight against Covid-19.
Mr Dhlamini attributed the latest development to the non-availability of testing kits to conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing at Mpilo Central Hospital’s National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory (NTBRL). He said so far, they had conducted more than 3 000 tests at Mpilo’s NTBRL using Nust resources with an average of 350 PCR tests per day.
“There is a backlog of over 700 cases not tested and as Nust, we ended up saying we can longer continue subsidising this Covid-19 testing. The institution is not being paid for it, but we are using our resources hence we are saying until we receive the requisite resources, we are not going to be doing the testing and that is what is on the ground,” he said.
“If you go to Mpilo Central Hospital right now you will realise that there is no testing happening because the supplies are not there and it’s a sad development. I am therefore pleading with our ministry to talk with officials at the Ministry of Health and Child Care to support our team as we are using our machines without getting any compensation.”
Mr Dhlamini said Nust offered to assist the Mpilo NTBRL with qualified personnel and the real-time PCR testing machines that can be used for qualitative and quantitative detection of Covid-19 ribonucleic acid (RNA) from various samples.
“We were made to believe that we were supposed to be capacitated in terms of resources for testing and all we got were donated PRC testing kits and there was nothing else in terms of consumables. We were being promised that these things are coming and we kept on telling the relevant authorities that we are coming from the Nust innovation hub where our role is to make money by DNA testing for the institution,” he said.
“Now we have moved our equipment and staff to Mpilo and we are no longer doing our core business, which is generating funds for the university through DNA testing and to make matters worse we were not given consumables.”
Mr Dhlamini said despite lending the Ministry of Health and Child Care their laboratory equipment such as micro-centric tubes, the university is not getting enough support.
“We have sent numerous emails to different people including the Minister of Finance and Economic Development who was here recently and he promised to look into this issue, but nothing is coming through. There is need at that level to say that someone has to pay because we can’t be doing charity work at this point in time,” he said.
Bulawayo’s Covid-19 testing started at Mpilo last month after Nust moved in some of its equipment to complement Government efforts in fighting the pandemic. Previously, tests were only conducted at the National Microbiology Reference Laboratory at Sally Mugabe Central Hospital in Harare.
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister Judith Ncube said they were seized with the matter. She said they are now engaging Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo in his capacity as the provincial representative on the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19.
“The development at Mpilo Central Hospital is unfortunate. I am aware that those people are willing and committed to do their work and I believe if they get the requisite tools, they are bound to deliver,” she said.
“I am, therefore, engaging our representative Minister July Moyo who is our representative here in Bulawayo at national taskforce level so that he looks into this issue. As Bulawayo, we regret that it has turned out that way, but we are addressing the issue and giving it the urgency that it deserves in light of this global pandemic.”
Lately, the testing centre has been overwhelmed with samples following increased tests nationally.
Acting Bulawayo provincial medical director Dr Welcome Mlilo confirmed the surge in Covid-19 samples which the laboratory was not capacitated to handle. The backlog is even affecting suspected Covid-19 patients who are told to self-isolate while waiting for results.
So far, Bulawayo has recorded 12 positive Covid-19 cases with one of them being fatal. The situation has seen Bulawayo delaying retesting the 11 other Covid-19 patients to check if they have recovered. The laboratory is supposed to conduct PCR tests for Bulawayo, Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Midlands and Masvingo.
Contacted for comment, the Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Obadiah Moyo referred questions to the director for laboratory services in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Raiva Simbi who was, however, unavailable.
Meanwhile, Deputy Minister Machingura said he was happy with the work by Nust in assisting the nation in terms of fighting Covid-19.
“When we came here, we were very impressed with what we saw at Nust where they are producing sanitisers. We have also given them tips on how they can increase production and the thrust by Nust to engage SMEs is very encouraging,” he said.
Most of the products from Nust are taken to Natpham and Bulawayo City Council. Nust in partnership with TICOZ Enterprises, has produced 10 000 face masks.