University medical labs co-opted for Covid-19 testing

PUTRAJAYA, 26 March 2020:

The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and the Higher Education Ministry (KPT) yesterday announced the formation of a Special Covid-19 Screening Team to conduct tests in 10 diagnostic laboratories.

MOSTI Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the tests involved diagnostic laboratories at research institutes including a mobile laboratory under MOSTI, institutions of higher learning (IPT) and university hospitals.

He said the setting up of the special screening team was agreed upon at a MOSTI-KPT meeting on March 20.

At the same time, a standard protocol is being drafted in collaboration with the Health Ministry (MoH) for use by all centres,” he said in a statement.

“All laboratories are capable of carrying out 1,414 tests a day. The Health Ministry, through the Institute for Medical Research (IMR), will also train Covud-19 screening laboratory staff and personnel on the standard protocol once its drafted.”

He said this meant that 42,420 screenings could be conducted by the research institutes and IPT within 30 days to ease the burden faced by MoH.

Khairy said the initiative was also the result of discussions with Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba and Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah at the joint Strategic Cooperation Meeting to curb the spread of the virus on March 23 at MoH headquarters.

He added that in line with the extension of the Movement Control Order (MCO) until April 14 as announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, MOSTI is implementing several initiatives to help stem the spread of the virus.

One of them is to expedite the Covid-19 diagnostic test kit evaluation process, which is developed by the Medical Innovation Ventures Sdn Bhd (Mediven) and funded through the Malaysia Technology Development Corporation (MTDC), he said.

Khairy said MOSTI was also developing a Covid-19 pandemic area mapping application to help the authorities conduct more thorough monitoring as well as a warning and reminder to the public to stay away from affected areas.

“I hope everyone will remain calm and comply with MCO until April 14 by staying home so that we can together curb the spread of Covid-19.

“All ministries and government agencies are doing everything possible to tackle this pandemic,”

MoH is considering the use of antiviral drug ‘Favipiravir’ to treat Covid-19 positive patients, said its director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

He said the drug, which is also known as ‘Avigan’ and ‘Fuhaikang’, was not yet registered in the country.

“We (MoH) can approve it. However, we need to test the drug as it has certain side effects. So we need to be careful when using it,” he said during the daily press conference on Covid-19 yesterday, explaining the drug was known as Avigan in Japan, and Fuhaikang in China.

In the event that the drug is approved, patients will need to be closely monitored to ensure its effectiveness, he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr Noor Hisham said 800 ventilators were required in government hospitals, out of which 500 would be designated for the specific use of Covid-19 cases.

The ministry had purchased 229 units of ventilators, with 54 units already received. The remaining 175 units are expected to arrive by early April, he said.

The private sector had also agreed to lend 64 ventilators for use in government hospitals, he added.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin recently announced an allocation of RM500 million for the purchase of medical equipment such as ventilators and Intensive Care Unit equipment, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) for public medical personnel, and for laboratory requirements for Covid-19 tests.

– Bernama