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Teku lab scrambles to handle mounting COVID-19 cases



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By Indira Aryal
Kathmandu, Oct. 9: Bharati Shrestha was almost asleep when her phone rang at 11 pm. She checked her phone and it was from Teku Laboratory. Shrestha, who lives in Hattigauda, was scared at first and did not dare to open the message. She had never given her swab at the Teku Laboratory. A lot of things came to her mind, but she went to sleep anyway.
The next morning, she showed the message to her daughter, an 11th grader. Her daughter also told her the report was from Teku and asked her not to open it.
She asked, “The report came to me mistakenly but what will happen to the person who is waiting for the report?”
Arjun Satyal (name changed) from Jorpati was waiting for his swab report for the fourth day on last Sunday. He thought his report was positive, so he would get a call from Teku directly. But he neither received the phone nor any message. Then he called the Teku Laboratory at the mobile number given on the website. Only then he found out that he tested negative for COVID-19.
He started searching for why he did not receive the message, but later found out that the message went to his unregistered mobile number.
As the number of tests for COVID-19 is increasing, the cases have piled up, errors in maintaining and disseminating medical reports are found to have caused panic to both groups, the swab givers and those who have received such unauthorised reports.
National Public Health Laboratory in Teku has stopped maintaining records on such public concerns, as the number of cases has soared. They have witnessed such errors but have not been able to check them as many of the mistakes are made while collecting the swab.
When asked about the mistake of sending test reports to wrong phone numbers, Dr. Runa Jha, Chief Pathologist and Director at the National Public Health Laboratory in Teku, said that there might be mistakes in registering the number as they had to deal with 2,000 to 2,500 samples a day.
Dr. Jha further said, “We are not gods, there might be a mistake in the laboratory or some mistake might happen in the booth from where the samples are collected. Sometimes we don’t understand the number written in the form.” There are mistakes not only in mobile numbers, but in the age and gender of the client.
Arpan Shrestha (name changed) from Anamnagar received his sample report in four days and tested positive for COVID-19. But he was identified as female in his report. “I don’t know how to claim my insurance as the report represents me as female in place of male,” Shrestha said.
Dr. Jha said that they would correct the report if someone tested positive for COVID-19 and had to claim the insurance benefit. Dr. Jha said that if the age is not clear or not written in the form, the computer does not accept the “0” number. So, we have to write three-digit “555” instead of people’s age.
“We admit mistake as we have to deal with a large number of swabs collected from different booths and here in the Laboratory, so to avoid such mistakes, the ministry of Health and Population is developing a software. So, such mistakes might not occur in the future,” Dr. Jha added.
Dr. Sameer Adhikari, joint-spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population, said that they had already developed a software to record the overall data without making mistakes but it would take time for its implementation. “Staffers are taking orientation to use the software and it will take time,” he said.