Home COVID-19 Agri labs to help clear covid-19 testing backlog

Agri labs to help clear covid-19 testing backlog

The Agricultural Research Council can do thousands of tests per week, helping National Health Laboratory Services clear backlogs

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The agricultural sector is stepping forward to help with covid-19 testing to augment the capacity of the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS).

In order to catch up with the demand amid the coronavirus pandemic the country has been doing on average around 40 000 coronavirus tests per day for the last month. In the light of this the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) has announced that it would extend a helping hand to the NHLS with 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) testing.

With more than three million tests completed, the country has passed the 500 000 threshold of confirmed covid-19 positive cases.

Laboratory testing has been at the forefront of the local response against the global pandemic. But a recent slump in the testing capacity of the NHLS has seen the agricultural sector step up.

The testing approach has now been shifted and puts emphasis on targeted testing of in-hospital patients, close contacts, health care workers and vulnerable persons, says NHLS communications manager, Mzimasi Gcukumana.

Most of the testing backlogs have been cleared, however KwaZulu Natal remains an area of concern, he says.

“In July, the backlogs in most provinces have been eradicated, and the only backlog at present is in KwaZulu-Natal. The efforts are underway to manage this, and we already see a reduction,” Gcukumana affirms.

ARC labs step up

In order to alleviate reported backlogs in the coronavirus testing capacity of the NHLS, the ARC has announced that it will join forces with the national testing facility. As the number of cases continues to rise, more and more samples need to be tested, says ARC communications and marketing manager, Mpho Ramosili.

ARC-OVR (Onderstepoort Veterinary Research) and ARC-BTP (biotechnology platform) will combine efforts and capacity to aid with extraction and real-time reverse transcriptase PCR (rtRT-PCR) of the 2019 novel coronavirus.

“Identifying and utilising the capacity in some of the laboratories such as the ARC-BTP will increase the country’s capacity to handle an increased number of samples submitted for testing.”

ARC-OVR focuses on animal health and already provides services in disease diagnosis and surveillance while the ARC-BTP is a biotechnology unit that boasts one of the largest genomics laboratories in the country with high-throughput automated platforms that are used for nucleic acid extraction and other molecular applications.

The ARC-OVR and BTP act as an extension of the laboratory capacity to implement NHLS covid-19 testing workflows and allows for more testing of samples.

“The two units could then provide the capacity required to test more samples in the country.”

As part of a strategy to combat its spread and to control the disease, the country has decided to increase the number of tests done. “There was a need to increase the capacity of the country to test and the NHLS reached out to the ARC-BTP and ARC-OVR to assist with the testings,” Ramosili says.

“By providing testing through necessary reagents to the high-throughput automated sample processing robots, 96 RNA extractions can be done within 90 minutes followed by Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR). With the workflow, thousands of samples can be processed within a week.”

Noluthando Ngcakani
Noluthando Ngcakani
With roots in the Northern Cape, this Kimberley Diamond has had a passion for telling human interest stories since she could speak her first words. A foodie by heart, she began her journalistic career as an intern at the SABC where she discovered her love for telling agricultural, community and nature related stories. Not a stranger to a challenge Ngcakani will go above and beyond to tell your truth.
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