KARACHI: The first consignment of primers (reagents) to detect the novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) will reach the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, on Friday from Japan, enabling the federal health officials to test at least 1000 samples for the lethal virus, officials told The News on Thursday.
"The government of Japan has donated primers which would reach NIH Islamabad on Friday morning. This would enable us to analyze at least 1,000 suspected samples for the novel Coronavirus that has wreaked havoc in China and created panic all over the world,” said Dr. Muhammad Salman, Chief Public Health, Labs Division, NIH, while talking to The News.
At the moment, Pakistan lacks the capacity to detect the novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which is a new virus that causes serious respiratory illness in people and can spread from person-to-person. This virus was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan cityof China and now it has spread to at least 15 countries, infecting over 7,000 people and causing 150 deaths in China alone.
The NIH Islamabad official said that so far no person was diagnosed with Coronavirus infection in Pakistan but that could primarily be due to absence of primers used to detect the new virus but added that after receiving primers from Japan, experts at the NIH Islamabad would be able to detect the novel Coronavirus in samples.
In addition to Japanese authorities, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Atlanta, United States would also provide primers to Pakistan, the NIH expert said adding that they were also trying to procure these 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," Dr. Salman said adding that they had also approached Hong Kong for the preparation of primers to be used for sample analysis in Pakistan.
To a query, Dr. Salman said health facilities declared and designated as focal points in the provinces could send the samples of suspected patients by using 'viral transport media' to NIH Islamabad and added that the National Institute of Health (NIH) would be responsible for detection and confirmation of novel Coronavirus cases in the country.
He said although the World Health Organization had not yet declared the emergence of novel Coronavirus as public health emergency so far, but the WHO is going to reconvene the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on the new Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) shortly to advise on whether the current outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.
Another official of the NIH told The News that some friendly countries were also providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Pakistan to deal with suspected patients at the health facilities and added the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Islamabad was also trying to acquire primers, personal protective equipment, supportive medicines and viral transport media.
Meanwhile, officials at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) Karachi claimed that they were also in the process of acquiring the kits and primers to detect the new Coronavirus as suspected cases were being referred to the AKUH by the authorities as they are the only health facility in Sindh to have the capability to detect serious viral respiratory diseases like SARS and MERS.
An official of AKUH said once they acquire the Real-time rRT-PCR Panel Primers and Probes, they would also be able to analyse the samples for the novel Coronavirus.
It is worth mentioning here that at least eight Chinese nationals, as well as some Pakistani citizens, were taken to the AKUH last week on suspicion of suffering from Coronavirus infection after they reported flu with fever and difficulty in breathing while they also had a history of travelling to China this month. Fortunately, none of them was found infected with the lethal virus as per the WHO case definition.
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The reference was filed by the Election Commission of Pakistan in November