File picture: Maxim Shemetov
File picture: Maxim Shemetov

NHLS has backlog of 63 000 Covid-19 test samples

By ANA Reporter Time of article published Jun 10, 2020

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PARLIAMENT - The National Health Services Laboratory (NHLS) still has a backlog of more than 63,000 Covid-19 unprocessed test specimens, MPs have been told on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the national backlog stood at 70,219 specimens as per the definition that these were older than three days, according to figures presented to the portfolio committee on health by Kamy Chetty, the CEO of the NHLS. By Wednesday, this had been reduced to about 63,000.

Gauteng had the biggest backlog with 23,000, followed by the Eastern Cape with 21,953 and KwaZulu-Natal with 18,000. In the Western Cape, the province that has two-thirds of the infections nationwide, has a backlog of 7,266 unprocessed specimens. 

The delays, driven by a shortage of diagnostic material, has raised concerns that the current figures for Covid-19 infections in South Africa may not reflect the full extent of the epidemic.

Chetty said the bottleneck in the system arose because of shortages globally of extraction kits used in the diagnostics process. She said NHLS had a very difficult month in May as shortages set in at the same time that testing in South Africa had gathered speed significantly.

"It has been a very difficult period because the number of samples we were getting was increasingly rapidly but it was the same time that suppliers were running out of supplies."

She said that the situation was complicated by the limited number of suppliers around the world.

Chetty said the service has been able to work through its backlogs because it has diversified extraction methods and materials, allowing it to buy up more supplies. Initially the NHLS had sought to standardise all testing, but realised that this was restrictive and therefore it changed its approach.

There were still problems with delivery times, though because lockdown restrictions around the world were slowing export chains.

Chetty said the NHLS were giving special attention to the Western Cape to eradicate its backlog because of the high infection rates in the province and would do the same with the Eastern Cape where positivity rates were on the rise as well.

The office of Western Cape premier Alan Winde on Wednesday said the number of positive cases recorded in the province stood at 33,892, with 851 fatalities.

African News Agency

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