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National Health Laboratory’s Role to Control COVID-19

As the pandemic keeps on spreading throughout the world, COVID-19 cases in Eritrea have reached 15.

The lab technicians at the National Health laboratory are working day and night to identify new cases and control the virus. We talk to Mr. Sereqe Tesfatsion, Head of the Quality Control Service at the National Laboratory, on the role of the laboratory.

  • Mr. Sereqe, would you please share with us some of your memories of the work the lab carried out during the armed struggle?

Just like everything else during the armed struggle. The laboratory that we had at the fields had limited capacity and resources. However, despite oaur limitations, every one worked with the ultimate dedication to deliver. Most of the work was done manually and required a lot of time, which is one of the reasons all the staff members used to work day and night. I believe that, given the circumstances at the time, the lab used to do a great job and it actually became the base for today’s National Health Laboratory.

  • National Health Laboratory after independence…

Similar with every part of the country, the National Laboratory was just standing as a lab with almost nothing in it. After independence, the Ministry of Health (MoH) relentlessly worked to enhance the health service capacity of the country generally. And just like all health sectors, the MoH made efforts to install high tech lab tools and empower the lab technicians through training courses.

The National Health Laboratory’s main objective is to ensure that all labs across the country are giving efficient service to the public. It is responsible to provide the labs with tools they need and make sure that the lab technicians are competent. It also works to enhance the capacity of its professionals through courses and workshops. As most of the health services institutions include their own labs, the National Laboratory looks at the services being given and gives out guidelines all the labs should follow to provide quality service to the public. It is also where numerous difficult diagnoses are carried out if they require unique techniques and sophisticated high tech lab materials.

  • The National Lab’s role in connection with COVID-19…

As we all know, since the outbreak of the new virus, COVID-19, many countries have been taking measures to control it. From the time the virus was spotted in China and knowing how fast it could spread, the Ministry of Health has been making preparations. Since the virus is new, it needs new technologies and tasting tools, which our lab didn’t have. However, the Ministry of Health did a tremendous job getting the tools and bringing foreigners to teach the lab technicians how to properly use the tools. The courses weren’t that difficult as the high-tech lab tools were similar to the tools we used to work with.

To be honest, most countries were sending their samples to other countries because they didn’t have the tools required when the virus first hit their respective country. But Eritrea was prepared and has been carrying out its own examinations from the beginning. And since the first COVID case was found on the 21st of March, all the National Lab members have been working relentlessly to check if there are more cases. And we have identified 15 cases, which are all imported. All patients are being taken care of and are in good condition. At the beginning, we didn’t have many people from outside the country; so, we didn’t have many samples to test. But now, as the number of infected people is increasing, we are busy working on samples.

  • Are the new testing tools available in the regional hospital labs?

At the moment, the new testing kits are only available at the National Health Laboratory. However, the MoH is working to add more testing tools and if the number of cases seems to rise, the ministry plans to distribute the tools to the regions. As I said before, as this virus is new, many new testing techniques are being developed by the day. And we are all working to do our best and, hopefully, all the regions would get the tools so that the public could be tested within their region.

  • Anything else before we conclude our interview?

The public should be given sufficient awareness through campaigns and timely information. We have to give information on how this virus can spread and infect people. Also, people should know all the symptoms and should be able to identify them. Individuals should take responsibility for themselves as well as the community. As the media play a big part in controlling the pandemic, I believe that they should give all timely information; that is a way to control the spread.

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