Covid-19 testing slows to a crawl
MPAs 'exercising influence' to expedite results, burdening healthcare system
KARACHI: Ghulam Mustafa, a resident of Mehmoodabad, who began showing symptoms of Covid-19 on Monday and has quarantined himself since then, finds himself in a fix.
"When I called the Covid-19 helpline [on Monday for getting tested], I was told to wait for at least 24 hours," he told The Express Tribune. Almost a week later, not a single official has contacted him, he complained.
Mustafa's predicament is reflective of the difficulties numerous others are facing in getting tested for the coronavirus.
The issuance of Covid-19 test results is facing delays of two to three days in Sindh, not just because the health department is overwhelmed by the uptick in the test count following Eidul Fitr, but also, reportedly, because of Sindh Assembly lawmakers now getting themselves screened.
"So those who have contacts with top officials and ministers are being given priority now," alleged Mustafa.
This was confirmed by health department officials who asked not to be named. Before a recently called Sindh Assembly session, all MPAs wanting to attend the proceedings were asked to get themselves tested as a precautionary measure.
"However, health teams were forced to collect the samples of their family members and other close contacts as well," a senior health department official told The Express Tribune.
"This further increased the burden on the already overworked machinery," explained another department official, adding, however, that the number of citizens getting themselves tested had also risen by a significant margin over the past couple of weeks.
Mustafa's wife, too, has started showing symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and diarrhoea, but he does not know whom to approach for assistance.
"We went to Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK) in a rickshaw on Tuesday [to get her tested] and the results still haven't been released. I don't know where to go for the tests, the results or the treatment," he worried.
Crumbling under the burden
In Karachi, laboratories at different hospitals have been directed to extend support to district health officials across all of the city's six districts in carrying out the tests for Covid-19.
But the laboratories in the metropolis also continue to receive samples for testing from other districts of Sindh, further burdening them.
According to health department spokesperson Meeran Yousuf, they receive countless calls on helpline 9123, set up for coronavirus guidance, every day. "We have received over 1,000 calls within a period of just 24 hours," she said talking to The Express Tribune on Saturday.
"The health department teams are overburdened and exhausted," she said, explaining that they had to coordinate with district offices, too, who then sent teams to suspected patients houses to collect samples for testing.
Adding to the burden is the hospitals' recent hesitance in providing assistance.
As per Yousuf, Aga Khan University Hospital is no longer accepting samples from the health department for testing.
"Their testing capacity is limited to 900 tests per day and they were already being sent over 1,000 samples daily," a health department official elaborated on the reason behind the hospital's refusal to accept samples. "Their priority, of course, is their own patients and staff."
Similarly, laboratories at CHK and Dow University of Health Sciences are also not accepting samples anymore, prioritising their own patients.
"We can now only look to the laboratory at the University of Karachi," the official said.
Amid these circumstances, Yousuf, while assuring that health department officials were putting in all-out efforts to fix the problem, said that the situation was hard to control. "I fear the collapse of the healthcare system if the number of patients continues to rise."