A health worker takes a swab sample from a patient's throat at the Depok Regional Health Laboratory in West Java on April 30. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Health Ministry to Double PCR Labs' Operational Hours

BY :TARA MARCHELIN

JUNE 16, 2020

Jakarta. The Health Ministry is planning to extend the operational hours of polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, laboratories for Covid-19 around the country to meet President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's target of 20,000 tests per day.

"We will optimize the existing Covid-19 laboratories by extending their operational hours because a lot of them are only open for six hours due to lack of staff and logistics," Abdul Kadir, the ministry's interim head of Health Research and Development Board (Balitbangkes), said on Tuesday.

"We plan to double the opening hours to 12," Kadir said. 

That means adding more technicians to the labs. "We can't force the current staff to work overtime because they will get exhausted and become more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection. They will not be able to work optimally," he said.

Kadir said Health Ministry has been conducting five-day training for 300 laboratory staff comprising health polytechnics' lecturers, students and fresh graduates.

At the end of the five days, the new staff will do on-the-job training at the laboratories, Kadir said.

"The newly trained staff will be sent to laboratories in regions that need them. That's why we pick training participants from those regions we've identified," he said. 

Currently, there are 139 PCR laboratories in Indonesia with a daily test capacity of 19,100, but the number can fluctuate. 

"The current daily test capacity is still fluctuating because it depends on the number of samples received by the laboratories. Some of them don't open on weekends and this is a big factor in the daily capacity," Kadir said.

The existing labs' capacity can be boosted to up to 30,900 tests per day before having to expand the labs themselves – which will take more time and cost more money.

"Potentially, using the existing labs, we can do 10,000 more tests per day," Kadir said.

Kadir believes with support from molecular rapid test (TCM) laboratories, Indonesia can soon reach the landmark of 20,000 tests per day.

However, officials must ensure there is adequate specimen input to fulfill the target.

"The laboratories and the Covid-19 Task Force should be more aggressive in contact tracing. It will be difficult to meet our target if the contact tracing is not improved," Kadir said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advised the government in its situation report last week to ensure there were "less than 5 percent of samples positive for Covid-19, at least for the past two weeks, assuming that surveillance for suspected cases is comprehensive," before loosening restrictions in provinces and districts. 

However, the WHO also found none of the provinces in Java had a positivity rate of less than 5 percent of samples over the two-week period from May 25 to June 7.

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