(Merida, 08/15/2020) – Despite registering more than 1,000 cases per day since August 11, only three laboratories in Venezuela are performing Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests to detect cases of COVID-19. In last month, more than 10,000 infections have been officially reported throughout the country, an exponential growth also registered in Merida, whose total number confirmed by the State Government so far is 759 cases, almost half of them reported in August.
Until July 21, the only place that processed nasopharyngeal samples from all over the country to diagnose coronavirus disease was the National Institute of Hygiene (INH, by its acronym in Spanish); until April, this laboratory was performing between 85 and 95 PCR per day. Currently, only two other laboratories perform PCR tests in the country: a small mobile unit installed in the Táchira state and, more recently, the Microbiology Laboratory of the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC, by its acronym in Spanish).
The number of laboratories that are processing samples for PCR is still insufficient, especially when the country begins to experience the highest growth of the infection curve, as projected by the Venezuelan Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences last May.
The supplies haven`t arrived at the ULA laboratory
Despite on March 18, the Ministry of Health authorized the performance of PCR in the Microbiology Laboratory of the University of Los Andes (ULA), the supplies to process the samples never arrived. This laboratory, which has all the equipment and personnel necessary to perform up to 20 PCR tests per day, it was one of the most important laboratories in the country in performing tests to detect the H1N1 virus during the years that the influenza A pandemic was in progress.
According to statistics released by the Government of Merida last Thursday, August 13, 7,314 samples have been taken for PCR tests in the state, of which 1,985 are still expected. State medical sources have indicated to the Observatory of Human Rights of the University of Los Andes (ODH-ULA) that the results of the samples carried out in Merida take between 15 and 20 days to arrive from the INH.
Three laboratories of autonomous university could do PCR testing
On July 27, the Venezuelan Society of Bioanalyst Specialists (SVBE, by its acronym in Spanish) issued a communiqué stating that they have not received a response from the Ministry of Health for the authorization of three laboratories of autonomous universities in the country that are capable of processing samples for PCR: the Laboratory of Basic and Applied Research of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the University of Zulia (LUZ) and the Institute of Biomedical Research «Dr. Francisco J. Triana Alonso», located in the headquarters of the Aragua State of the University of Carabobo (UC).
«We have participated in several meetings with authorities of the Ministry of Popular Power for Health, we expressed our willingness to participate in the diagnostic process and we sent to the mentioned Ministry the three projects with the List of Reagents and Materials for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 by e-mail, which are necessary for 1,000 samples (…) We have not obtained a response», states the SVBE in the referred statement.
Health and lives subordinated to authoritarian politics
The infectious disease expert, Julio Castro, head of the Commission of Health Experts of the Legitimate Government to deal with the COVID-19 in Venezuela, explained to the Spanish media El País that «the protocol of the Ministry of Health indicates that a negative PCR test is necessary to discharge, previously there were two of them. A patient has to wait for a result for another eight days in a bed that could be using another
On April, Castro indicated that at least eight laboratories in the country would be able to perform PCR testing. This type of diagnosis is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), because it is 95% effective in detecting SARS-CoV-2that is the type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
ODH-ULA rejects the silence by the Ministry of Health on the request of SVBE, which had not send the necessary supplies for PCR testing at the Microbiology Laboratory of the UlA.It was authorized for almost four months by it same.
The centralization of COVID-19 diagnostics not only supposes a considerable expense in transporting samples to Caracas that could be processed in the regions, but also increases the risk to the health and lives of thousands of Venezuelans in a country whose system of health is more than precarious.