As South Africans begin the first day of the national 21-day lockdown, the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) says it is stepping up its efforts to fight the spread of Coronavirus.
NHLS chief executive officer, Dr Kamy Chetty, said the organisation has adequate testing capacity and equipment to meet the demand.
“The NHLS is pursuing various sources of supplies to obtain polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based test kits and has a commitment from suppliers that South Africa will be a priority,” Chetty said.
Currently, the NHLS has six laboratories performing COVID-19 related tests. This number will increase to nine by April 2020.
In addition, the NHLS has 18 state-of-the-art Cobas 6,800 and 8,800 machines that will dramatically improve the volumes of tests that can be conducted.
Coronavirus test kit for GeneXpert
Chetty said the NHLS also has over 180 GeneXpert analysers, which will be available in all provinces for testing COVID-19 by April 2020.
The Coronavirus test kit for the GeneXpert analyser, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week. The test kit can deliver a COVID-19 diagnosis in 45 minutes.
“The advantage, according to the supplier, is that tests can be processed in 45 minutes, and the smaller machines can be placed in mobile vehicles, which makes it ideal for community testing.
“It’s a pity that this new test kit was not available sooner, as it would have made a huge difference to how testing gets done. We are nevertheless pleased that it will be ready shortly,” Chetty said.
Laboratories conducting tests
The six laboratories that are currently conducting tests are the NHLS National Institute for Communicable Diseases and Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, which are both located in Gauteng; Groote Schuur and Tygerberg Hospitals in the Western Cape; Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal and Universitas Hospital in the Free State.
“Tshwane Academic Hospital in Gauteng, Port Elizabeth Provincial and Nelson Mandela Academic Hospitals, both in Eastern Cape, will start testing shortly,” Chetty said.
Chetty said the NHLS has deployed six mobile laboratories to collect samples for testing.
The mobile laboratories that have been deployed as follows:
- One in the Western Cape;
- Two in the Free State;
- One in Kwazulu-Natal and
- Two in Gauteng.
Meanwhile, 20 more mobile vehicles have also been procured and will be deployed in April.
“With all the five sites functional, the NHLS has the capacity to process 5 000 samples in 24 hours. This number will increase to 15 000 in 24 hours in April. At the end of April, the NHLS will be able to process approximately 36 000 test in 24 hours,” Chetty said.