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Molecular laboratory unit gets new resources to help with backlog

Molecular laboratory unit gets new resources to help with backlog
ELLIOT SAMUEL, Chief Laboratory Technologist

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AS AT SUNDAY night, the molecular laboratory unit was four days and 2000 samples behind in testing, but the going live of a fast automatic extraction machine this weekend is promising.

“In terms of days, we are probably about four days behind in testing, and in terms of numbers we get an average of about five, six hundred samples a day so I can safely say that we’re behind about 2000 thereabout samples,” Chief Laboratory Technologist, Elliott Samuel explained in an interview on SVG TV Sunday night.

He cautioned that there will still be “sporadic” individuals waiting for longer to get their test results. This is because they have been pooling the samples, as recommended by the Pan American Health Organization where there is a need to conserve resources.

“…If somebody ends up in a positive pool, doesn’t say that the individual is positive, but we have to go back down and do re-extraction of all of the persons who are in that pool,” he said.

“…This has led to some choking of the system, so we may have some persons who are in positive pools who are sitting probably five, six, seven, eight days,” Samuel added.

However, there are a number of additions and changes that have been taking place.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, St Vincent and the Grenadines purchased one PCR machine, also called a thermocycler, which processes 96 samples in approximately three hours. Two other machines were acquired, one that also processed 96 samples, and another smaller machine.

“On the analytical front the extraction process is laborious and it’s time consuming. So I think that by October last year, having realized that, we put in a bid for an automatic extraction machine,” the technologist recalled.

Then the waiting game began, as any resources related to the pandemic are difficult to acquire. The machine arrived on island on January 21, but the company they purchased it from wanted to travel to St Vincent to do the set up. “We had to set up a Zoom meeting with the local medical engineering team to convince them that we had the skillset on island to do the installation and do the verification,” Samuel explained. The company accepted they did.

Therefore, biomedical engineer Johanna-Marie Best-Gordon along with other technical and information technology professionals set up the machine last week, and “we actually went live with that machine … [Saturday] night. The techs were out of the blocks running samples on that machine last night into this morning.”

“..What was taking us three hours to do, we can now accomplish that in 96 minutes. So it’s really going to help us
I think to get out of this slump that we’re in in terms of the backlog,” the Chief indicated.

The Laboratory is also receiving more personnel. Samuel relayed that they have received an additional cohort of three trained experts from Cuba, who will be finishing their quarantine and joining the staff thereafter.

“We have expanded capacity for testing and we’re going to be expanding the amount of hours the lab is going to be open as well,” he said.

They have also done a lab analysis, according to Samuel, and realized that there were several processes they needed to streamline at different parts of the “diagnostic cycle”.

In the first phase, called the pre-examination phase, “we felt the techs were spending too much time trying to sort these samples, because we’re literally getting hundreds of samples per day.”

They have since received four additional staff members from the Ministry of Health to dedicate themselves to doing this sample sorting.

When it comes to when the backlog will be expected to be cleared, the technologist said he would be pragmatic in his estimation.

“…Given all that we’ve gotten from the Ministry of Health in terms of the Government, I can safely say that, give us until the end of the week,” he concluded.

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