New mobile testing units on display at the NHLS in Sandringham on Wednesday, 1 April 2020. (Kyle Cowan, News24)
Only five of 60 new mobile testing units launched by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday are operational, with a further five to be rolled out on Monday.
And the mobile laboratory unit that was on display at the launch is the only one that currently exists. That one can also not be deployed yet because the tests the GeneXpert machines on board can conduct have yet to be validated by authorities, with the tenders for the rapid tests also yet to be issued.
Plus, it will take several weeks before these 60 mobile units will be able to increase testing capacity to the envisaged 30 000 tests a day, despite Mkhize’s comments on Wednesday.
The CEO of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), Dr Kamy Chetty, told News24 on Thursday morning they hoped to have, in the coming weeks, 10 vans fully outfitted with the GeneXpert machines, and in total planned on 20 such vans.
The majority of the vans, however, will only be outfitted with the machines at a later stage.
The NHLS already has some GeneXpert machines ready to be installed in other vans as soon as the tests are validated, but envisaged some problems getting more machines imported from the US.
The 10 mobile units to be rolled out today and Monday will also not be able to conduct on-the-spot testing, but will be used to transport nurses to priority areas where they will screen patients and collect samples to be tested at a laboratory.
The sampling and screening units are equipped with a fridge that can store samples at temperatures up to minus 26 degrees Celsius. It also has some plastic folding tables and chairs, and will be fitted with a computer that can feed information on testing and screening back to the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) central database.
The samples collected will still need to be transported to one of 10 NHLS laboratories for testing, which have new machines that will significantly increase the capacity to test the higher number of samples collected.
“Today we came to unveil a number of mobile laboratory vans. The NHLS has procured 60 mobile vans in addition to the seven that were currently being used. It, therefore, brings us now to 67 mobile testing units – vehicles that are equipped as laboratories,” Mkhize said.