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