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Covid-19 Lab closes down

…As lack of access to funding mounts operations pressure

…There is continued power struggle over who signs for Covid-19 funds

Ntsoaki Motaung

Financial and power struggle over funds set aside for the fight against the Covid-19 presses on, Social Cluster Chairperson Fako Moshoeshoe has revealed.

Moshoeshoe said eight months into the journey of fighting the pandemic, Lesotho, under the new established Covid-19 structure, the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC), still fails to make implementing decisions because there is a power struggle of who should handle the pandemic funds.

This emerged this week after the National Reference Laboratory suspended its operations.

The Lab operating in Lepereng, Maseru issued a memo to Laboratory Managers countrywide informing them that as at October 15, 2020, they were not accepting any new samples of the virus for testing.

“During the time when funds were to be released, a power struggle emerged of who should control the funds and sign and approve for financial needs of different activities around the pandemic, and this is why the lab has stopped its operations.

“It is no surprise that operations have stopped at the National Reference Laboratory. The main challenge it’s facing, like all other activities around the fight against the virus, is budget; therefore this means the lab cannot purchase anymore needed equipment because they don’t have money. No one has been appointed to sign for funding from NACOSEC or the Disaster Management Authority,” Moshoeshoe said.

He pointed out that the principal secretaries reshuffle and the cabinet change affected the implementation of plans around the fight against the pandemic.

Fako, however noted that he received information that a signatory was going to be appointed soon, so as to allow for operations to resume, which also includes operations of the National Reference Laboratory.

The Lab’s Manager, ‘Mathabo Mareka when contacted by this paper sharply said she would not speak with the media about the halted services, referring this reporter to the ministry’s spokesperson.

“I don’t speak with the media about issues and operations of the lab. Please contact the ministry for any comments,” she said.

The memo seen by this paper was signed by Mareka and cited shortage of supplies as the reason behind the suspension of services.

The memo indicated that services offered by the laboratory had to stop immediately.

The lab’s operation was launched in August by Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro.

The memo was written to laboratory heads, warning them not to send any Covid-19 samples to the National lab.

Seen by this paper, the memo reads; “This Memo serves to inform you that National Reference Laboratories-PCR Lab has run out of supplies to continue testing for SARS Cov-2. Your laboratory is therefore advised not to collect and send SARS-Cov-2 samples to NRL for testing until supplies are available.

As soon as supplies are available, your laboratory will be informed.”

This paper contacted the Health Ministry’s spokesperson, Tumisang Mokoai who clarified that the National Laboratory’s operations have not entirely stopped, but are temporarily suspended because of supplies shortage.

“This only means testing is not done on a large scale like before, but operations of the lab remain as they should. It is important to emphasise that the National Reference Laboratory is not closed for operations,” Mokoai said.

He added, “The shortage of equipment at the laboratory is being looked into by the ministry of health which is also working on placing orders for the needed equipment so that operations can resume normally.”

“The lab is still running tests, however at a lower scale because there is just a shortage, they are not totally out of stock of what is needed,” he said explaining that the large demand of results from across the country has led to the shortage.

For her part, Rose Moremoholo the Broadcasting and Communications Specialist at the NACOSEC confirmed that the Covid-19 testing services at the National Laboratory remain interrupted due to lack of consumables.

“We are expecting the consumables to arrive very soon because an order has already been placed, therefore operations will normalise,” she said.

She further revealed that the national covid-19 results NACOSEC is publishing are acquired from different private laboratories from around the country.

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