United Nations envoy to the country commended Somalia’s advances in diagnostic testing for COVID-19, and highlighted the importance of the national laboratory and other laboratories throughout the country in the COVID-19 response.
“Over the last four months, the NPHRL has played a critical role in the pandemic response by detecting cases and monitoring virus circulation. The NPHRL has worked alongside two other public health laboratories with molecular testing capability for COVID-19. This has helped the country to test and track virus circulation across the country, and to detect high virus transmission areas for early containment,” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, James Swan.
“Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical, and the United Nations and international community are committed to supporting the national laboratory,” he added. “The progress in scaling up Somalia’s capacity to confront the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates what can be achieved when national and international experts work hand in hand.”
On today’s visit, accompanied by the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) Country Representative, Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik, the UN Special Representative was shown around by the Director of NPHRL, Dr. Sahra Isse Mohamed, and engaged with the laboratory’s staff.
With the emergence of COVID-19 in Somalia, the NPHRL was rapidly upgraded to an appropriate bio-safety level, and WHO donated a real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)-based testing machine to immediately capacitate it for testing COVID-19 samples. Testing of COVID-19 sample by real-time PCR machines is regarded by WHO as the ‘gold standard.’
After training by international experts, NPHRL staff are now testing COVID-19 samples on their own.
The NPHRL started to test samples for COVID-19 in April, and can now test up to 180 samples a day. The current testing capacity can further be upgraded to 360 samples a day whenever needed.
Almost 7,000 samples tested
From 7 April to 23 June, the NPHRL has tested 6,572 samples for COVID-19. The laboratory is also the only reference laboratory for testing of COVID-19 samples collected from some of the Federal Member States, notably Galmudug, Hirshabelle, South West State and Jubaland.
WHO has provided the internal quality assurance protocol and training online to ensure that standard laboratory quality assurance measures are strictly followed at the NPHRL. The UN health agency has provided enough testing kits and other items for testing samples until September 2020, and has also provided other supplies.
WHO has also supported the establishment of two other real-time PCR-based laboratories in Garowe and Hargeisa, and is providing similar types of support in the form of laboratory equipment and consumable supplies.
While the laboratories are currently focussed on the COVID-19 response, the United Nations sees the three laboratories as an investment for Somalia’s future.
“The NPHRL and the two other laboratories with PCR-based testing capability will be able to rapidly detect and diagnose any other infectious diseases in the future – including any new and novel disease pathogens, and without any external support or assistance. This is an important investment for the future of Somalia,” Mr. Swan said.
In addition to WHO, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), UN Support Office for Somalia (UNSOS) and UN Development Programme (UNDP) have provided support for the NPHRL, as have other international partners.