The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) CEO, Dr Karmani Chetty, said the institution is working around the clock to reduce the backlog of COVID-19 test samples.
While the backlog of unprocessed specimens was as high as 101 000 on 21 May 2020, Chetty told members of the health committees in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces that the number has gradually gone down and that as of Wednesday, the backlog stood at 63 244.
Unprocessed specimens are samples that are older than three days after being registered at a laboratory without being tested.
Briefing the committees on Wednesday, Chetty said the laboratory service had a very difficult time dealing with the backlog during May.
“It has been a very difficult period because the number of samples we were getting on a daily basis was increasing rapidly… but as you can see, we have been processing those backlogs down and as we stand now, it has been 63 000 but we have been improving on that dramatically,” she said.
Chetty said the NHLS has prioritised the Western Cape in tackling the backlog of unprocessed COVID-19 samples because of its high positivity rate.
She said that in the Western Cape, the laboratory service has reduced the backlog from 18 000 at the end of May, and that the backlog currently stood at 3 727 on Wednesday.
“As a result, we have been giving them extra kits for them to reduce the backlog,” she said.
Chetty said the laboratory service was also prioritising testing for high risk individuals.
“What we have done is we have testing priorities where we have prioritised testing for those with a medical need and clinical diagnosis, testing for high risk individuals, testing of critical frontline workers,” she said.
She said the backlog has mainly been in community screening and that the in-hospital patients who are at risk are prioritised so that the backlog does not impact on them.
Chetty said experts have been working towards increasing the number of extraction equipment.
She said the NHLS was also looking at a more targeted and focused testing and also looking at using rapid diagnostic tests. She said type of rapid diagnostic test allows for a blood sample to be put into a machine to check for anti-bodies.
Meanwhile, the laboratory service has upscaled its capacity at a national level in a short space of time to provide significant number of tests on a weekly basis.
“We are trying to improve our capacity to ensure that we are able to meet that demand.
“We have grouped together the provinces of the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape as priority ones because as you can see, the positivity rate is quite high in these provinces,” she said