COVID-19 Testing Barriers: Public Health Reference Laboratory; a must for Upper West

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A medic introduces the procedure of COVID-19 testing to citizens in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 8, 2020. The number of COVID-19 cases in South Africa has risen steadily over the past fews days amid massive community testing in a 21-day national lockdown. The country reported a total of 1,749 cases as of Tuesday, an increase of over 60 from Monday's announcement, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said. (Photo by Shiraaz/Xinhua)
A medic introduces the procedure of COVID-19 testing to citizens in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 8, 2020. The number of COVID-19 cases in South Africa has risen steadily over the past fews days amid massive community testing in a 21-day national lockdown. The country reported a total of 1,749 cases as of Tuesday, an increase of over 60 from Monday's announcement, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said. (Photo by Shiraaz/Xinhua)

Hitherto, COVID-19, the Upper West Region has for decades been battling Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM), Tuberculosis (TB), and Hepatitis B among other public health diseases. Diseases like CSM claimed more cases and more deaths in the region in the year 2020 than COVID-19 did.

The region lies in the Africa Meningitis Belt, hence, prone to seasonal outbreaks occurring from November to April every year according to health authorities.

The emergence of COVID-19 in Ghana on March 12, 2020, exposed the weaknesses in the country’s public health system as testing for cases became a huge challenge as the country makes effort to end community spread.

Remote regions like the Upper West Region particularly had to transport samples several kilometers away and wait impatiently for weeks before receiving results even though the situation has now improved significantly.

Public Health Reference Laboratory

The irony, however, is that CSM, TB, and Hepatitis B have been around for decades and yet the region lacked a very important facility such as a Public Health Reference Laboratory to ease the trouble of patients waiting for days for their results to come so clinicians could make decisions regarding their health.

The cost and transport burden on the health system could also be avoided if such a facility was available in the region as well as the prevention of needless deaths.

Madam Theresa Salifu, Deputy Chief Medical Laboratory Scientist, who is the Wa Municipal Hospital Laboratory Manager, described the absence of a Public Health Reference Laboratory in the region as a dent on the health system in the region.

“Apart from COVID-19, which is recent, we have CSM, Tubeculosis, and Hepatitis B on our neck which are all public health diseases and all efforts must be put in place to get reference laboratory for the region”, she said.

“Right from Funsi, Tumu, Gwollu, Fielmuo, Hamile, Nandom, and Wechiau, all of them have to transport their samples to Wa for them to repackage and

transport to Tamale, which is about five hours away and then, wait until they give them results before they finally make decisions”, she lamented.

“I think it is an embarrassment of the system. It is not like we do not have qualified Medical Laboratory Scientists, we have them and they are dedicated and willing to put their best to serve the people of the region and beyond”, she added.

Madam Theresa said they have followed up severally, knocked on several doors just to get a reference laboratory in the region but all have proved futile.
“How do you send a sample five hours to Tamale, wait sometimes for weeks before you get results and clinicians also have to wait for all this while before they can make a decision on somebody’s life”, she said.

“All this period of transporting samples, results could have been ready and whatever decisions clinicians have to take could have been taken if we had a reference laboratory in the region and more lives could have been saved”, Madam Theresa noted.

Testing

The Manager of the Wa Municipal Hospital said everything they do often starts from testing – “about 70 per cent of the decisions that we make in the health system start with testing to know the status of patients”.

She added that so if you suspect somebody of having COVID-19, you could only commence treatment after you have ascertained the person’s status through testing.

“But, once you test and you get to know the person’s status, immediately, you know what to do including isolation and taking extra precaution not to infect healthcare workers”, Madam Theresa said.

Clinical Decisions

She noted that a lot of the clinical decisions were made based on laboratory results and there should not be any reason why they should not have a Public Health Reference Laboratory in the region.

“There should not be any reason, there is no excuse, we are extremely old as a region not to have a Public Health Reference Laboratory”, she said.

“For people up there, they can have the luxury of thinking the North is just one big village, but for us in the Upper West Region, we know the implications of the decisions we take”, she emphasized.

Bad Roads

Madam Theresa said the road network linking the other regions were very bad and they needed a laboratory of their own to be able to serve the people, adding that, the region was very big and they did not need to ride on the back of other regions to make decisions of public health relevance.

Passionate Appeal

The region according to her was endowed with a lot of health professionals but when it comes to sharing of the national cake, they are always lumped up with other regions and I think it is not right.

The Deputy Chief Medical Laboratory Scientist, therefore, appealed to whoever needed to put concrete steps in place for the region to get a Public Health Reference Laboratory to begin to do the needful because the population was increasing and they could not continue to be in such a situation.

“If we had a Public Health Reference Laboratory, we would not have experienced all the difficulty we passed through at the beginning of the COVID-19 with regards to testing of samples”, she pointed out.

“We need a reference laboratory now to help in testing and detecting diseases of public health concern and prompt treatment can be given to clients who need it, that is my passionate appeal”, Madam Theresa echoed.

Covid-19 Cases

Meanwhile, the case count of the global pandemic in the region stands at 741 cases of which 704 have been discharged leaving three active cases whilst 34 people, unfortunately, lost their lives to the most deadly disease in world history.

Conclusion

Indeed, a Public Health Reference Laboratory in the region would have averted all the COVID-19 testing challenges witnessed in the region from the beginning.The Northern sector is vast and the practice of always dotting one facility in Tamale to serve the entire enclave must stop.

Authorities must begin to address the development gap in the North on a regional basis for the people to have equal rights to the national cake.

Madam Theresa’s cry is the cry of the entire people of the region; hence, authorities must consider it as an urgent need and put in place measures to have the facility established in the region and indeed across other regions that are yet to benefit from the services of such an important facility in the healthcare delivery system.

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