The COVID-19 testing facility housed at the National TB Reference Laboratory at Mpilo Central Hospital needs more consumables to effectively conduct tests, a request that has been put forward to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
At the moment, the laboratory is using consumables from National University of Science and Technology (NUST), through its partnership with the learning institution.
Mpilo houses the laboratory facilities while NUST provides the real time, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine that detects the virus.
Laboratory consumables include pipettes, beakers, funnels and test tubes.
Responding to questions from the media on Saturday at Mpilo Hospital, NUST Head of the Applied Genetics Testing Centre Zephaniah Dlamini said the COVID-19 laboratory had no consumables that came in from the government, save for PCR and Extraction kits.
“No we are not receiving any consumables, we don’t have consumables. We only received kits for PCR and extraction, that’s all. The consumables like tips, pipette tips, centrifuge tubes we are not receiving those and we have been cannibalising from our NUST laboratory. We hope we will be able to reimburse our laboratory (at NUST),” he said.
Dlamini noted the matter was highlighted to Finance Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube, who had paid a visit to the laboratory.
“He (Prof Ncube) promised that if we give them our requirements, he will look into that,” he said.
Dlamini also said the laboratory had worked out an initial budget of US$2.6 million to run 25 000 COVID-19 samples for six months but since the government had provided some kits for PCR and extraction, the figure went down to US$1million.
“We did a budget which came about to US$2.6 million for 25 000 samples but this was not taking into account that the PCR kits and extraction kits would be provided. These PCR and extraction kits have been provided, so if we remove that maybe for these other consumables, we may need a budget of about a million or just below a million for us to test 25 000 samples within a six month period,” Dlamini explained.
“If we concentrate it and try to do what the Ministry of Health and Child Care is suggesting, which is we test 1 000 individuals a day but roughly to do 25 000 tests we can work the figure backwards so we need US$1 million provided that the PCR and extraction kits are supplied.”
Dlamini said clinicians were still sharing space at the laboratory, since it was initially meant for TB testing.
“We run the TB samples in the morning, then from around 6am to 1pm, testing COVID-19 samples starts at 2pm going late into night. But this also depends on how much TB samples are there that need to be processed and COVID-19 samples. Like today (Saturday), we had a very large number of COVID samples, so we started with those samples and for the first time, we involved two shifts with two teams extracting samples. They can do 150 samples in three hours if working well and if done, that room, which is the Level 3 facility can be free for TB testing,” he said.
After touring the laboratory, the finance minister, acknowledged more resources had to be poured towards the testing facility.
“I came here at Mpilo to visit the National testing laboratory for TB but which is also testing for COVID-19. I came to see for myself what is needed and how we can support this to scale up the testing process. It is very clear that we need more capacity in terms of PCR testing.
They took me through the whole process and it really starts with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
“We need to buy more, make sure more is supplied for the frontline testers and then in addition to that they need other testing materials to be beefed up. At least now, I have full appreciation of what’s needed. I’m actually aware that overtime, the testing laboratory has to be upgraded so that it maintains its Level 3 rating, as a quality global testing centre,” he said.
Prof Ncube, said his role was now to make sure the laboratory is supplied with additional resources to make sure testing happens efficiently.
“This lab in a sense covers a region of Zimbabwe, which is about 16 million people which is a lot of people and I’m pleased to see the dedication of the workforce they work long hours. They are here from 6am and sometimes leave at midnight. The health workers work very long hours and we appreciate their long hours. We as government stand ready and we have put in place a risk allowance that is tax free. Going forward, we can see what else we can do to support the health workers do their work,” claimed the finance minister.
“This is a key institution, remember our first order of business is to scale up testing. We will release resources soon, they are yet to fine their budget which they will submit but we will do it quite speedily.”
He added that private players had come on board, “donating material, cash as well but donating their services. We welcome this support of solidarity.”