‘Ban Coronavirus Testing From Private Labs Or Accept Their Diagnosis’

LAHORE: The number of Coronavirus patients in Punjab is rising at a brisk pace now. However, the reports coming from major hospitals in Punjab suggest that the figures are being fudged to keep the tally low and that the actual number of Coronavirus patients in the biggest province of the country could be much higher than what is being reported.

Talking to Naya Daur on Monday, a senior doctor at Mayo Hospital, Lahore said that Punjab government’s criterion for testing the suspects is completely different from the one set by World Health Organisation (WHO). He says that our criterion has been deliberately designed to keep the number low.

‘Punjab Not Following WHO’s Guidelines’

“We are only testing people who get admitted to the hospital with severe symptoms. Even in those cases, we are being told to test only the suspects who have a travel history”, the doctor told Naya Daur.

“When a patient arrives at the hospital, they are initially taken to the Emergency section. As mentioned earlier, we do not test people without travel histories and severe symptoms. So if they die without being tested, we don’t count them as Corona patients even if they have all the symptoms of being infected by the virus. Hospitals are doctoring the reports; we’re being told to mention cardiac arrest, kidney failure, etc. as the cause of death in such cases”, he added.

There have been multiple reports of government hospitals refusing to test the patients with a confirmed history of contact with verified Coronavirus patients. Arsalan Javed, a sports journalist from Neo TV had been sharing a room with four other people in Lahore and all four were tested positive for the disease. However, when he reached Narowal District Head-Quarter (DGQ) Hospital, the doctors refused to test him because his symptoms were ‘not severe enough’.

But Azhar Mashwani, Focal Person (Digital Media) to Punjab Chief Minister, says that we are using the latest technology to trace down people who came into contact with an infected person and the standard operating procedure is to test them all.

‘Hard Copies Of The Tests Not Being Provided To The Doctors’

Another serious issue that the doctor raised while talking to Naya Daur was that no written report was being provided to the doctors. “The government has appointed a focal person and the reports are shared with us only verbally. Only people with some influence are being provided hard copies”.

Mashwani confirms that focal persons have been appointed for the purpose but only to ‘expedite the treatment’.

“Punjab government can test 3100 affected persons daily currently and due to this immense load, it is impossible to provide hard copies of the results for all the patients. However, no information is being concealed or distorted. The sole reason behind appointing focal persons was to expedite the treatment of the patient, not to hold their reports back”, he said.

According to the document shared by Azhar Mashwani with Naya Daur, 1537 tests were conducted in five government laboratories across Punjab on Sunday, April 5.

‘Private Labs Allowed To Test Corona Suspects But Reports Not Recognised By Govt’

Talking about the authenticity of the reports, Naya Daur’s source told that throat swab specimen being used at the labs for Coronavirus testing is not completely reliable as ‘it has an accuracy of 33-35 percent only’. He also criticized the government’s policy of allowing Chughtai Lab and other private laboratories to conduct the tests on the one hand but refusing to recognize those tests on the other.

“You should either ban the tests at Chughtai Lab or accept them as authentic. Currently, we’re refusing to admit the patients tested positive at private laboratories and at the same time we’re allowing these laboratories to conduct the tests. This is a major contradiction. The fact is that the suspected patients from privileged backgrounds do not want to visit our government hospitals. The government has provided them an alternative through these private labs but it also doesn’t want the toll to rise so it’s refusing to recognize the tests held at these labs”, he said.

Responding to this, Azhar Mashwani said that multiple tests for all patients are mandatory and even if a patient tests positive at a government-run lab, it is recommended that the tests are done again on them after some time. It is important to keep monitoring them, he said. “We’re not charging anything for the tests and re-testing helps verify the private lab’s test as well. There’s no contradiction here”, he added.

‘Govt Not Providing PPEs To The Doctors And Paramedics’

This has been a cause for concern throughout and contradictory figures provided by different government officials have only added to the confusion. In a TV interview with Syed Ali Haider on Samaa TV, Dr. Yasmin Rashid claimed that over 60,000 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits had been provided to the doctors and paramedical staff in Punjab. However, in a handout issued on March 30, days after the provincial health minister’s interview with Ali Haider, Punjab Chief Secretary claimed that 5750 masks and 14,600 gowns had been provided to the staff.

Doctors and paramedical staff are the frontline warriors in this war against Coronavirus and several have already been tested positive. Dr. Osama Riaz, a doctor from Gilgit-Baltistan who died because of the virus, had contracted it while treating Coronavirus patients.

Azhar Mashwani says that it is a cause of concern for the government as well. “Pakistan is now producing the kits locally but we’re not the only country dealing with the problem of PPE shortage right now. Even the first world is struggling with this issue”, he added.

14 doctors have been tested positive in DG Khan Quarantine and various others are at risk of contracting the virus from the very people they are trying to save.

‘No Oxygen Cylinders, Monitors In Expo Center Quarantine’

Punjab government has also set up a 1000-bed hospital at Lahore’s Expo Center near Thokar Niaz Baig. The hospital is also being used as a triage. However, Naya Daur has learned that the quarantine facility is nowhere near the prescribed standards. The suspects are being made to stay in the same ward with the verified Corona patients, reports suggest.

“Government is calling it an ICU-level facility. But there are no monitors here, not even oxygen cylinders. Suspected and verified corona patients are both using the same washrooms”, Naya Daur was told.

Azhar Mashwani said he was not in a position to comment on the subject.

The number of Coronavirus cases in Pakistan is expected to reach 50,000 by April 25, according to the report submitted by the federal government in Supreme Court on April 4. However, multiple reports suggest that the government’s preparations are still not up to the mark. Naya Daur reached out to a senior analyst who said that the charge of information being concealed from the public must be taken seriously as it is a matter of vital importance for public health. “It demands a thorough investigation. The people of Pakistan must not be denied their right to information”, he said.