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Friday Jan 31 2020

Coronavirus detection kits from Japan to arrive in Pakistan today

Officials work at the production line manufacturing detection kits for the new coronavirus at a company in China, December 31, 2019. AFP/STR/Files

KARACHI: The first consignment of primers (reagents) — donated by Japan to Pakistan and aimed at detecting the novel coronavirus — are expected to reach the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad on Friday.

The coronavirus detection kits would enable federal health officials to test at least 1,000 samples for the lethal virus, officials told Geo News on Thursday. "The government of Japan has donated primers to us that would reach at NIH Islamabad on Friday morning," Dr Muhammad Salman, the chief of the NIH's Public Health Labs Division, confirmed.

"This would enable us to analyse at least 1000 suspected samples for the novel coronavirus that has wreaked havoc in China and created panic all over the world”, he added.

At the moment, Pakistan lacks capability to detect coronavirus, which is a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person to person. It was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Chinese city of Wuhan and has now spread to at least 15 countries, infecting over 7,000 people and causing 150 deaths in China alone.

The NIH official maintained that no person had been diagnosed with coronavirus in Pakistan so far but that could be due to the absence of primers, which are used to detect the new virus. Once the primers arrived from Japan, the facility's experts would be able to detect coronavirus in the sample provided to them.

In addition to the Japanese authorities, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) would also provide primers to Pakistan, Dr Salman said, adding that officials in Islamabad were also trying to procure the reagents and kits from Germany and China so as to enhance their capacity and deal with any eventuality in the country.

"Some countries, including Japan, and CDC, Atlanta USA are donating the primers, while we have also approached some other countries, including Germany and China, to procure primers for the detection of novel Coronavirus", he noted, adding that they had also approached Hong Kong for the preparation of the primers to be used for sample analysis in Pakistan.

In response to a query, Dr Salman said health facilities — declared and designated as the provincial focal points — could send the samples of suspected patients by using "viral transport media" to NIH Islamabad, which would be responsible for detection and confirmation of coronavirus cases in Pakistan.

The doctor explained that although the World Health Organization (WHO) had not declared coronavirus a "public health emergency" yet, its director-general was expected to reconvene the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on novel virus to advise on whether the current outbreak constituted a public health emergency at an international level.

Another NIH Islamabad official told Geo News that some friendly countries were also providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to Pakistan to deal with suspected patients at the health facilities. The WHO's in Islamabad was also trying to acquire primers, PPE, supportive medicines, and viral transport media, the official added.

AKUH in process of acquiring detection capability

Meanwhile, officials at Karachi's Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) claimed they were also in the process of acquiring the kits and primers to detect the new coronavirus as authorities were referring suspected cases to them. AKUH is Sindh's only health facility with the capability to detect coronavirus like SARS and MERS.

"We, at the AKUH, have the capability to detect viruses that cause SARS and MERS and we are in the process of acquiring the primers to diagnose the novel Coronavirus 2019-nCoV," an AKUH official said. "Once we acquire the Real-time rRT-PCR Panel Primers and Probes, we would also be able to analyse samples for the novel Coronavirus."

It is worth mentioning here that at least eight Chinese nationals, as well as some Pakistani citizens, who had travelled to China this month, were taken to the AKUH last week over the suspicion of having coronavirus after they reported flu with fever as well as difficulty in breathing.

Fortunately, none was found infected with the lethal virus as per the WHO's definition.