Public Health Institute Gets Full Capacity to Test for Coronavirus in Liberia

With the capacity to test for the virus fully completed, public health experts can make quick determination of any suspected case in Liberia

Monrovia – Liberia now has the capacity to conduct test for the Coronavirus in country following a recent supply of reagents from the World Health Organization to the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL).

The support now gives the country’s public health sector a boost as health experts continue rigorous efforts to prevent any possible case of the virus in Liberia as it will help “rapidly diagnose” any suspected case of the novel virus. Testing will be done at NPHIL’s health reference laboratory.

On February 11, NPHIL acting Director General told a news conference that Liberia did not have the capacity to conduct actual testing of Coronavirus cases in the country.

Dr. Mosoka Fallah announced that specimen of the single “alert case” was sent to Senegal for testing with the result returning a couple of days later negative.

Now, with the capacity to test for the virus fully completed, public health experts can make determination of any suspected case.

“The arrival of the reagents to test in country will give us the time we need to quickly response if we have a suspected case. We can quickly test and get a definite result to enhance our surveillance and prevention of the spread of disease,” explains Dr. Fallah, who added that NPHIL already had the facility before the coming in of the reagents.

“We have the platform/technology in country, which is the Polymerase Chain reaction (PCR for short) that we used to test for Ebola or Lassa. All we needed was the reagent that is specific for COVID-19 and the relevant safety measures as this one is a respiratory virus.”

Dr. Fallah added that countries that are capable of testing for a disease are able to quickly respond to the outbreak with “high degree of assurance that you are looking at the real case”.

“If you have to ship the specimens out and wait for days, you lose time and your response efforts are impacted negatively,” he said.

“In outbreak response, speed is everything and testing in country gives you the speed and the high degree of confidence that you are doing the right thing and not wasting resources.”

However, he pointed out that despite having the full capacity of testing for the virus in country, there might be some challenges including making sure that “our laboratory staffs are protected; however, we have already started addressing that just before the reagents arrived”.

Coronavirus, which is also known as COVID-19, has spread in to 28 countries with China – where the outbreak started –  recording a total of 1,749 new infections and 136 deaths through the end of Tuesday, making the cumulative total 74,185 infections and 2,004 deaths — the overwhelming majority still occurring in central Hubei province.

In Liberia, health authorities have been working to prevent any situation. Several persons who have travelled from China into the country are being kept in isolation for more than two weeks. This is a measure intended to observe them following their return to the country.

On Monday, February 17, 23 travellers were certificated following completion of precautionary observation and they were released from Precautionary Observation Center at Star Base – a facility used by UNMIL and has now been transformed into a health facility.

“While in the Precautionary Observation Center (POC), none of the 23 persons show any sign or symptom of Coronavirus disease (#COVID-19). The travellers expressed gratitude to NPHIL and MoH for the measures to keep the country protected,” NPHIL said in a brief statement.

Meanwhile, NPHIL has announced that payments for the first 10 days for staffs in the POCs and Airport are being disbursed by the Ministry of Health, adding that the regular payment of health workers working at these facilities will continue.

“Health care workers can pick up their pay at the MOH finance window from tomorrow 9 am to 5 pm as per your shift,” a statement from NPHIL added.