A medical worker prepares an isolation room for coronavirus patients at Kraton Regional Hospital in Pekalongan, Central Java, on Wednesday. (Antara Photo/Harviyan Perdana Putra)

Indonesian Health Ministry Rushes to Equip Local Labs With Coronavirus Detector

BY :DINA MANAFE

FEBRUARY 07, 2020

Jakarta. Indonesia is rushing to equip laboratories across the country with medical equipment capable of detecting the 2019-nCoV novel coronavirus, a Health Ministry official said on Friday.

As of today, only the ministry's Health Research and Development Board (Balitbangkes) in Jakarta has the equipment necessary to identify the virus.

Medical workers around the country are required to send mucus samples from patients suspected of having been infected with the virus and send it to Jakarta to be examined, extending the time needed to confirm any infection, which has so far killed 638 people, only two of those outside mainland China.  

"Other laboratories should be able to make the diagnosis soon," Wiendra Waworuntu, the ministry's director of prevention and control of infectious diseases, said on Thursday.

"Any case [of the novel coronavirus] still requires formal confirmation from the Balitbangkes, but patients' mucus samples can be examined locally," Wiendra said. 

He said the ministry is currently working with the Jakarta Health Laboratory Center (BBLK), Surabaya BBLK, Manado Environmental Health Technology Center (BTKL) and a laboratory in Papua to improve their capability for detection. 

"We actually already have the capacity to detect SARS and MERS coronaviruses. For those, we take sample swabs," he said. 

The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2002-2003 killed 774 people in 17 countries, while the MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) has killed 858 people since it was first detected in 2012.  

"We need mucus samples for the novel coronavirus diagnosis, so we need to retrain our operators, especially in regional areas," Wiendra said.

Indonesia has not recorded any confirmed case of the pneumonia-like viral infection so far, despite confirmed cases in neighboring Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia. 

Many have raised the possibility the anomaly may be a result of Indonesia's inability to detect the virus in infected patients. 

Wiendra said Indonesia has run its screening process for the Wuhan coronavirus in accordance with the World Health Organization's (WHO) protocols and standards. 

There have been 34 suspected cases of coronavirus infection in Indonesia but test results on all of them came back negative. 

The WHO has inspected the public health screening facility at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta and at the Sulianti Saroso Hospital, a referral infectious disease hospital in North Jakarta, to make sure Indonesia is ready to handle a potential outbreak. 

"The visit confirmed the strong commitment of the staff and highlighted the importance of vigilant practices in screening for any suspected 2019-nCoV infected people, particularly given the high volume of people arriving to Indonesia through the airport," the WHO said in a statement. 

The Sulianti Saroso Hospital, the WHO said, "is well-equipped to handle an infectious disease outbreak adequately with the appropriate facilities and measures in place, in accordance with WHO guidelines."

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