The recently installed geneXpert machine at the Malaba border in Tororo District has been rendered idle due to lack of cartridges to assist in testing for coronavirus .
The machine is meant to enable rapid testing of truck drivers so that they receive their Covid-19 results within 45 minutes.
It was installed last month in a bid to address the challenge of the increasing transmission of the disease by cargo truck drivers.
“We are not able to conduct rapid tests and give out results within a short period of 45 minutes because the geneXpert machine is still idle,” Mr Chodry Okula, the head of port health authorities at the border, told Daily Monitor in an interview on June 1.
Mr Okula explained that the biosafety equipment, which is one of the key components of the geneXpert machine, also needs replacement because it was damaged during transit.
“The longer the results take to come back, the more time the drivers have to interact with locals. If the machine was operational it would be easy to test and act immediately before a multiplier effect is caused,” he said.
The District Health Officer (DHO), Dr David Okumu, said the district does not have resources to buy the missing cartidges .
However, the Eastern regional manager of Uganda Revenue Authority, Mr James Malinzi, said whereas normal operations have resumed at the border, delays in receiving results by truck drivers has reduced the speed at which clearing of cargo at the border is supposed to be done.
“As we speak, there are truck drivers who have taken more than three days waiting for their results before they can proceed and this is costly,” he said.
He added that the traffic jam has continued to pile on the Kenyan side because only few truck drivers are allowed to cross due to limited parking space at the customs yard.
“Initially, we would clear more than1,500 trucks in a day which has now dropped to an average of 400 trucks a day,” he said.
The LC3 chairperson of Malaba Town, Mr Asa Kalami, appealed to government to speed up the operationalisation of the machine.
“This should have been treated as a serious matter and given priority by the government,” he said.
New technology. The geneXpert machine is used to detect presence of bacteria or virus by analysing the presence of their DNA in a sample of blood, mouth or nose swabs. The machines were majorly being used to test for tuberculosis. Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the Director of Uganda Virus Research Institute, said the tests will be easily applicable because materials are more available. According to Dr Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health, the country has 200 geneXpert machines in hospitals but added that they need cartridges for coronavirus tests.
The country has 15,000 geneXpert cartridges.