COVID-19: Could ‘Drive Through’ Test Centers Influence Voluntary Testing & Recovery In Liberia

Health experts have stressed that more testing of people is one surest way to curb further spread of the COVID-19

Monrovia – Liberia’s health authorities said they have opened a “drive through” testing center for the coronavirus, which is expected to allow people seek voluntary testing.

The testing center, located at the SKD Sports Complex in Paynesville city, allows people “who don’t feel satisfy with themselves” to walk in and get tested for COVID-19, said Dr. Mosoka Fallah, Director of Liberia’s Public Health Institute.

Dr. Fallah has frequently emphasized the need for “more testing” in order to curb the spread of the pandemic, which has already infected 14 persons and left three dead in the country.

Dr. Fallah stressed that people should also request to be tested, adding that testing is the “main control” mechanism for COVID-19 around the world.

“We have done over 200 lab tests,” he said at the weekend while providing update about the pandemic on state broadcaster, ELBC.

“We have the capacity to do 9,000 more [tests] and we’re still trying to get more testing kits in the country.”

The NPHIL boss disclosed that the government is considering setting up more “drive through testing centers” and the possibility of starting a mobile testing facility soon.

“If people can stop running from one clinic to another clinic, [from] one drug store to another drug store, and let us know ahead of time and we test them and remove them from the population they would have done two things: they’ve given themselves a fighting chance and they have protected this country,” he said of how early testing limits the risks of further spread and a possible recovery of the infected person.

So far, NPHIL has trained six testing teams and is opting to expand the teams to 10 or 12 to be able to conduct more testing in the country, Dr. Fallah added.

Careful About Running Test

Meanwhile, health authorities have disclosed that 300 health facilities have been identified to respond to the pandemic while the first 135 health workers out of a targeted 1,000 have already been trained to provide clinical response.

And the Ministry of Health adds that it has “sufficient testing kits” but very careful about how tests are conducted in order to avoid putting healthcare workers at risk of infection.

“Right now, we want to control the test while we begin to train health care workers — especially lab workers — to be able to take specific test and each one of those specific test and each one of those facilities have to have an isolation area organize to put the patient there so that nobody else is infected,” said Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah.

“You can’t just give everybody the testing kits to run tests,” she said, adding that specific training of lab workers are also continuing.

The Health Minister and many public health experts are concerned that improper testing for the virus might cause more infections amid concerns in the public that testing of suspected cases is on a slow pace.

So far, two health workers including one lab technician have been infected with COVID-19 and 78 are being quarantined.

How Are Patients Treated?

Liberia has recorded 14 confirmed cases of the virus, three deaths and three persons have recovered after testing negative recently. They had spent several weeks in isolation while undergoing intensive care.

However, with no known treatment for COVID-19 — a disease that presents signs and symptoms like flu, fever, body pains and difficulty in breathing — Scientists have been frequently questioned about the recovery of patients.

And commenting on the recovery of the three patients recently discharged from treatment center at the 14 Military Hospital, Dr. Fallah said doctors treating them carried out “symptomatic management”, which means they were been treated for other illnesses that come along with the virus – fever, cough and difficulty in breathing.

“Because it is a virus infection and we don’t have a treatment now so we treat you for the symptoms – because the goal is to keep you alive as long as possible so your body defense system can take over.”

Continued Dr. Fallah: “This disease, though it is highly infectious, it’s not a fatal disease – 80% of the people will have mild symptoms and we will resolve it,” he said while disclosing that some of the patients, who were earlier taken into isolation, showed mild symptoms but were still not wither by virus.

“80% of those who have mild symptoms will do well, 20% will get from moderate to severe and of that 20% will be 5% that will go into severe respiratory distress, who [will] have to be ventilated.”

Scientists have established that aged people — mostly above 60 years — and patients with existing heath conditions like hypotension, diabetes and asthma are more vulnerable to the virus.

What Have Foreign Experts Say About Treating COVID-19?

Ina response to a question on its website about how COVID-19 patients are treated, the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention wrote: “Not all patients with COVID-19 will require medical supportive care. Clinical management for hospitalized patients with COVID-19 is focused on supportive care for complications, including supplemental oxygen and advanced organ support for respiratory failure, septic shock, and multi-organ failure. Empiric testing and treatment for other viral or bacterial etiologies may be warranted.”

CDC also said “there are currently no antiviral drugs approved by FDA [the US Food and Drug Authority] to treat COVID-19”.

However, reports by several western media suggest that Hydroxychloroquine can be used as a treatment for COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine is very similar to Chloroquine, one of the oldest and best-known anti-malarial drugs, medical researchers have said.

In late March, the FDA approved the use of the anti-malaria drugs to treat patients infected by the new coronavirus while the US Health and Human Services added that the drug has “shown activity in laboratory studies against coronaviruses”.

But many virologists and infectious disease experts have also warned that the excitement over the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus is premature.

Chloroquine: A Prophylaxis?

In Liberia, Health Minister Jallah said the use of Chloroquine as a drug treatment for COVID-19 has not been clearly determined.

“According to the [WHO] protocol that we have, some can use it as prophylaxis but it can also be used as a treatment in moderate to severe cases,” she said.  

She disclosed that “there are some that we have in country and if the case management team needs to use it they will use it”.

But she also warned against the use of the Malaria treatment drug without prescription – an act that may cause drug overdose leading to severe health complications.