KATHMANDU, June 19: The COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically in the last few weeks. However, the government has been slow to increase the number of testing, as more than 30,000 swab samples have piled up in laboratories across the country.
As of Thursday evening, 30,492 swab samples have been piled up in 21 government laboratories across the country. While the number of COVID-19 cases is significantly increasing in Province 2, at least 10,164 collected swab samples are yet to be tested in different laboratories of the province. Likewise, 7,999 samples have piled up in Province 5.
And, 3,000 samples have piled up in Bagmati Province; 1,600 in Gandaki Province, 3,200 in Karnali Province, and 3,319 in Sudur Paschim Province.
Province 1 has halted collecting swab samples for the last two days, and the number of swabs piled up at different laboratories in the province stands at 1,210. According to Koshi Zonal Hospital, swab collection in the province has been halted for the last two days as there has been a shortage of reagent for COVID-19 testing.
“The hospital has been unable to conduct COVID-19 testing as there has been a shortage of reagent. We have requested local units to stop collecting swab samples; it will only pile up in the laboratory, given the shortage of reagent” said Dr Laxmi Narayan Yadav, spokesperson at the hospital. The laboratory of the hospital can test around 300 swab samples daily.
Likewise, the laboratory of the Dharan-based BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences has been receiving more swab samples than its testing capacity. “The laboratory has a capacity to test 250-300 samples every day. The samples have been piled up as the laboratory is getting almost 500 throat swab samples every day,” Dr Dinesh Sapkota, spokesperson of the institute, told Republica.
In Province 2, the government has failed to expand testing despite rapid increase in coronavirus cases. As of Thursday evening, 10,164 swab samples have piled up in three laboratories in the province.
According to the Ministry of Social Development of Province 2, testing is being conducted in three places – Janakpur, Birgunj and Rajbiraj – through a real-time PCR machine.
“As the testing is slow, people are forced to wait for almost three weeks to get their test results. Around 8,000 individuals in quarantine facilities are waiting for their swab samples to be collected. Also, people are still returning from India,” Bijay Jha, information officer at Province 2 Health Directorate, told Republica.
“The testing has been sluggish as the province has a limited number of PCR machines. The province has the capacity to test only 300 swab samples on a daily basis, but laboratories are receiving at least 500 samples every day,” said Jha.
Likewise in Bagmati Province, COVID-19 testing is being conducted in seven laboratories. At least 3,000 swab samples have piled in seven labs across the province.
According to Dr Runa Jha, director at the Teku-based National Public Health Laboratory, more than 2,000 swab samples are yet to be tested in the lab. “The laboratory has a capacity to test almost 1,500 samples every day. The samples have been piling on a regular basis as the lab has been receiving at least 2,000 throat swab samples every day,” said Dr Jha, over the phone, adding that the pending test will be conducted by Friday evening.
According to Dr Pursottam Sedhai, spokesperson at the Hetauda-based Vector Borne Disease and Training Centre, as many as 489 samples are yet to be tested. “The number of swab samples is increasing every day, but testing has been slow due to the lack of enough equipment and manpower in the laboratory.”
At least 1,600 swab samples have piled up in different laboratories in Gandaki Province. According to health officials, the number of testing to be carried out is more than the actual capacity of laboratories. The province has been conducting COVID-19 testing only from the Pokhara-based Gandaki Province Public Health Laboratory.
“Apart from the regularly collected samples, it will take at least five days to complete the testing of swab samples piled up at the lab. The lab has only two PCR machines,” said Sapana Subedi, acting chief at the Gandaki Province Public Health Laboratory.
Likewise, the number of India-returnees staying at different quarantine facilities in Province 5 stands at 26,167. As of Thursday evening, 7,977 swab samples have piled up in three labs -- Public Health Laboratory, Bheri Hospital, and Rapti Academy of Health Science – in the province.
“The number of India-returnees is high. One has to wait at least 10 days for the test result. We have been conducting 200 tests every day,” Dr Rajendra Giri, chief of the Public Health Laboratory in Province 5, told Republica.
As the testing takes more than a week in the province, quarantined people have committed suicide, fled the quarantine facility, and staged protest.
In Karnali Province, quarantined people at Tribhuvan Higher Secondary School in Dailekh clashed with police last week. They demanded that the test be conducted on time. A total of 3,200 swab samples have piled up in laboratories in the province.
In Sudur Paschim Province, at least 3,319 swab samples have piled up at the Dhangadhi-based Avian Disease Investigation Laboratory. The only COVID-19 testing laboratory of the province has a capacity to test 250 samples per day.
“As the laboratory is overwhelmed, we have sent 2,066 samples to Kathmandu for testing,” said Narendra Karki, focal person at the lab, adding that there has been a shortage of Viral Transport Medium (VTM) for swab collection.
With inputs from Rohit Rai and Binod Subedi in Province 1, Rohit Mahato in Province 2, Sarita Shrestha in Bagmati Province, Santosh Pokharel in Gandaki Province, Rekha Bhusal in Province 5, Nagendra Upadhyaya in Karnali Province, and Pushpa Raj Joshi in Sudur Paschim Province.