A doctor checks Governor Sarwar’s body temperature at the main gate of the Governor’s House. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Inadequate facilities: Punjab govt grapples with coronavirus

Authorities have notified 14 laboratories for tests

Adnan Lodhi/Imran Adnan March 18, 2020
LAHORE: As the number of cases of coronavirus infection has started increasing in Pakistan amid inadequate arrangements to deal with the emergency situation, doctors, paramedics and the general public are complaining about a shortage of basic safety material such as face masks, gloves and hand sanitisers. Panic buying of eatables and grocery items is aggravating the situation in urban centres, The Express Tribune learnt on Tuesday.

Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar also directed authorities concerned to further tighten precautionary measures at the Governor House. The doctors conducted screening of Governor Sarwar at the main gate of the Governor House after which he came to his office, while the screening of entire staff and visitors of the Governor House will be conducted on a daily basis as per new guidelines issued by the Governor House.

Governor Sarwar and all the staff members and security personnel of Governor House have been declared clear of coronavirus symptoms after their screening.

All you need to know about coronavirus testing in Pakistan

On the other hand, an official of the Shaukat Khanum Hospital said that around two dozen citizens approached the hospital for free coronavirus test, of whom the hospital management has conducted tests of eight or nine individuals who had recent travel history, while the remaining citizens were sent back after prescribing medicines.

He further pointed out that the hospital has a limited number of coronavirus test kits which cannot be used for every citizen who has doubt of the infection. Responding to a question, he indicated that the government has notified coronavirus test rate of Rs7,900 but it is being conducted free of cost.

A representative of a laboratory disclosed that it also has a coronavirus test facility against payment of Rs7,900 as notified by the government. However, several citizens complained that some private hospitals were charging over Rs9,000 for the same test.

The government has notified 14 laboratories for coronavirus tests, including National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad; Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP); Punjab AIDS Lab, Lahore; Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, Lahore; Nishtar Hospital, Multan; Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi; Civil Hospital, Karachi; Dow Ojha Institute for Chest Diseases, Karachi; Indus Hospital, Karachi; Punjab Health Laboratory, Peshawar; Fatima Jinnah Hospital, Quetta; Mobile Diagnostic Unit, Taftan; Muzaffarabad Medical Science Institute; and DHQ Hospital, Gilgit.


 Ray of hope

The local researchers and scientists at the National University of Science and Technology’s (NUST) Attaur Rahman School of Applied Biosciences (ASAB) claimed to have successfully established Molecular Diagnostic Assays for the detection of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

An official of the NUST disclosed that the kit has been developed in collaboration with Wuhan Institute of Virology China, DZIF Germany, Columbia University USA and Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) Rawalpindi. The test will cost around Rs2,000 which is over 70% below the current notified test price.

The assays include both conventional and real-time PCR-based methods of Sybr Green and Taqman. The testing kits have been efficiently tested on laboratory controls and patient sample. These assays are robust, sensitive to the target and would soon be available in the market.

Meanwhile, a team of scientists from the Punjab University (PU) also claimed to have developed a low-cost diagnostic kit for coronavirus, while PU Vice Chancellor Dr Niaz Ahmad Akhtar announced free testing facilities for suspected patients of coronavirus.

A team of PU professors, led by Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB) Professor Dr Muhammad Idrees, developed the kit in preparation of diagnosing the rising number of coronavirus suspects.

A PU spokesman said that the cost of one test would be around Rs800. Dr Idrees said the development of the kit was a difficult task for the scientists. “In this prevailing situation, Punjab government can now obtain these kits from a public university, which is the government’s own institution.”

Dr Idrees added that the laboratory, where the testing for coronavirus suspects was being conducted should match BSL 3 standard so that laboratory staff and other workers could not be affected by the spread of the virus.

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He further said that, on availability of certain medical resources, the PU team of scientists can develop thousands of such kits in a short period of time.

Speaking on the varsity’s capacity to deal with the impending coronavirus threat, Dr Idrees, remarked that the development of the coronavirus diagnostic kits should be credited to PU’s scientists. “In the prevailing situation, the varsity’s scientists are in a position to prepare these kits on cheaper rates.”

He confirmed that he was invited by the Punjab Health Department’s officials for a discussion about the low-cost diagnostic kits. “I will brief the department’s officials over the process of making the diagnostic kits and the requirements for preparing the kits.”

At PU, the team of scientists is ready to prepare kits, based on demand, he clarified. “We will follow the government’s instructions if they require the kits. Preparation of the kits will not be expensive.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2020.


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