File picture: Maxim Shemetov
File picture: Maxim Shemetov

Covid-19 in SA: Testing strategy needs to change, say medical professors

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published May 18, 2020

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Johannesburg - The government has been urged to  re-focus its testing strategy for Covid-19 diagnosis by refraining from testing  everyone for the virus.

Medical professors Marc Mendelson  and Shabir Madhi said in an academic  editorial published by the SA Medical  Journal that the country had entered  a phase in which its testing strategy  needed to be geared up to save lives,  rather than chasing new cases.

Mendelson, from UCT and the division of infectious diseases and HIV at  Groote Schuur Hospital, and Madhi,  from Wits University and the Medical  Research Council, blamed the testing  strategy for the laboratory backlog.

Their article, titled “South Africa’s  coronavirus testing strategy is broken  and not fit for purpose: It’s time for a  change”, comes as the government faces  stinging criticism from academics over  the continuing lockdown.

Mendelson and Madhi wrote that  while the National Health Laboratory  Service (NHLS) earlier indicated that it  would be able to process 36 000 tests a  day, this had not materialised.

Results were not being made available within 12 to 24 hours of sampling.

This was a clear indication that “the  number of tests received exceeds all  capacity of the centralised NHLS laboratories earmarked to do testing”.

In many parts of the country, including the hard-hit Western Cape, the turnaround time for results was anything  from five to 14 days.

“For instance, at Green Point Laboratory in Cape Town, which has capacity  for 1 000 tests a day and is working 24/7,  10 000 untested samples from the community and hospitals were waiting to be  tested as of May 7,” wrote Mendelson  and Madhi.

The NHLS previously admitted that  there was a “significant backlog, especially from some private laboratories,  due to pressure caused by the increasing  workload”.

Mendelson and Madhi blamed the  backlog on sending tests of every tested  person to the laboratories. “We need  to prioritise testing in suspected severe  Covid-19 that requires admission to  hospital,” they wrote. “

As the epidemic accelerates, the  number of patients needing to be admitted to hospital is rapidly rising, and the  system is becoming overwhelmed in  high-prevalence areas.”


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The Star

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