Reagents shortage yet another test of accuracy for Indonesia’s COVID-19 data
Read also: COVID-19: Indonesia on hunt for PCR testing kitsDisease control and prevention director general Achmad Yurianto of the Health Ministry acknowledged that the shortage of regents had forced a number of laboratories to halt testing, leaving only 37 out of 78 labs able to submit test results on Tuesday. However, he assured that a new supply of reagents enough to support up to 15,000 tests was en route to the archipelago.”The stock was sent from South Korea this morning,” Yurianto told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.Indonesia has been scrambling to obtain the chemical reagents necessary for the COVID-19 PCR tests amid the global shortage, with the government seeking to procure them from countries that have a surplus of testing kits.President Joko Widodo has called for health authorities to expand PCR testing to at least 10,000 tests per day – or 300,000 tests per month – amid criticisms that the country has one of the lowest testing rates in the world.According to government data, Indonesia has tested 59,936 samples for the COVID-19 virus by Thursday, with 7,775 samples testing positive for the coronavirus. Of these confirmed cases, 635 patients have died.The government has estimated that Indonesia would need to conduct 1.2 million tests by May.However, many observers – including state officials – have cast doubt on the government’s COVID-19 figures, saying that minimal test coverage, multiple case categories and “nontransparent” data pointed to a high likelihood that the real number of cases in the country could be higher than official reports.Despite the shortage of reagents and the country’s dependence on imports to overcome this, Yurianto did not believe it would be efficient to produce the chemicals locally.“We are running against time and producing the reagents ourselves would take time and [a long] process,” he said.The director of the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology, Amin Soebandrio, explained that the reagents required a specific level of refinement and needed to be validated for use in the COVID-19 PCR tests.Nonetheless, he said that the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) were currently attempting to produce the PCR test reagents.“Hopefully, within 2 to 3 weeks, locally made reagents will be able to contribute [to nationwide PCR tests] a little, even though they may not be able to supply nationwide laboratories,” he told the Post.However, Eijkman’s deputy for fundamental research, Herawati Sudoyo, warned that developing the reagents for the COVID-19 tests had to be done carefully to meet high quality assurance standards.Read also: COVID-19: More than 380 foreigners among infected in IndonesiaWhen asked about the possibility of alternative tests to detect the coronavirus, Herawati maintained that the PCR testing method was currently the “gold standard” for COVID-19 detection.“The reagents shortage is not happening just in Indonesia. It’s happening around the world because no one was prepared for the pandemic. But PCR [testing] remains the best option,” she said.In the meantime, Eijkman has secured a sufficient stock of reagents for the next two to three weeks, and its lab was still testing more than 300 samples per day.In Surabaya, East Java, the University of Airlangga Institute of Tropical Disease (ITD Unair) initially reported on Monday that it had run out of reagents and that the supply it had ordered on March 24 had yet to arrive.On Thursday, ITD Unair head Maria Lucia Inge Lusida told the Post that the center had resumed testing received enough reagents from the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister to test 1,400 samples.In the nation’s capital, Jakarta Health Laboratory head Endra Muryanto said that the regional lab, which had already tested 10,160 samples so far, had secured enough reagents to continue testing for the next few days.While the West Java Health Laboratory said it had also secured a new supply of reagents, it expressed concern over the general availability of reagents.“Extraction reagents are hard to obtain, and we are worried that we might have to stop testing because of a delay in the arrival of the [imported] reagents,” said laboratory head Ema Rahmawati.Topics : A shortage of reagents is interfering with the government’s efforts to ramp up much-needed mass testing for the coronavirus, posing another challenge for Indonesia regarding the true scale of its outbreak.Over the past two days, a number of the country’s laboratories have temporarily stopped running polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests because the supply of reagents – the substance essential to testing swab samples – had yet to arrive from abroad.In South Sumatra, for instance, the Palembang Health Laboratory (BBLK) had to stop testing samples due to the lack of reagents. The halt on testing caused the province to record zero new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and Tuesday, kompas.com reported.The reagents are necessary to isolate the indicators for the coronavirus RNA from human DNA in swab samples to determine whether the test subject had the virus or not.