ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is contemplating a move to allow private hospitals to carry out COVID-19 tests amid fears that it could “become a business,” Director General of Health Services Dr Anil Jasinghe said.
With the government confirming its second COVID-19 patient last evening, efforts are underway to contain the spread of the disease in the country, with 64 suspected cases currently under observation.
The private sector is not permitted to carry out tests for the novel coronavirus as it is “not geared” to handle a public health exercise of this nature, Dr Jasinghe told a press conference this afternoon.
Rumours have been rife that private hospitals are charging exorbitant prices for the test.
“If we allow the private sector to carry out this test, it will have to be on very stringent criteria. We will have to ask them to report the details of patients, which will prove useful for us in following up these cases. The price will also have to be reasonable,” said Jasinghe.
The health ministry is following up with 4,794 people who landed at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) over the past few days. According to Jasinghe, 3,305 of these arrivals are Sri Lankan and 1,153 are Chinese nationals, while the remainder are from South Korea and Italy.
As of this morning, 1,448 people are quarantined in Batticaloa and Kandakudi. Of the 64 people who were identified as being in close contact with the two confirmed patients, about 13 who meet what is known as a ‘case definition’ have been hospitalised for observation. The remaining 51, according to Jasinghe, are all under home-quarantine. At least one of these contacts is a US citizen.
The two patients, both of whom are tour guides who had worked together with a group of Italian tourists, are currently undergoing treatment at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, commonly referred to as IDH (Infectious Diseases Hospital).
Asked why Chinese arrivals are not being quarantined, Jasinghe reiterated the official government position that China is completing its “epidemic curve”, with only 27 new cases reported yesterday and areas with high concentrations of COVID-19 cases are still in lockdown.
“In China, lockdown is lockdown. In Italy, that’s not quite the same. In China, they block the roads. That doesn’t happen in Italy,” he said. At the time of writing, the Hubei province has been in lockdown for over 50 days.
Seventeen government hospitals have been designated for COVID-19 treatment. The real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for the virus is a diagnosis test, as opposed to a screening test, and according to Jasinghe can take five to six hours per patient.
“We cannot perform many of these tests at once. Doctors decide which of the admissions should be subject to a PCR test. There’s a case definition on which that decision will be based,” he said.
The test is currently available at the Medical Research Institute (MRI), the Jayawardenapura hospital, the Karapitiya teaching hospital, Kandy hospital and the Anuradhapura teaching hospital, with moves underway to make it available at the North Colombo teaching hospital as well.
Asked if the hospitals are sufficiently equipped to handle the potential crisis, Jasinghe said that while resource limitations exist, improvements are underway with World Health Organisation (WHO) and Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded equipment being added.
“We’re also going to repair some of the ventilators which may be required in severe cases,” he said. (Colombo/Mar13/2020)
–Reported by Himal Kotelawala