Government Should Take the Disastrous COVID-19 Testing Backlog Seriously – FEDUSA

10 July 2020

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) has called on government to take the unprecedented COVID-19 backlogs seriously as thousands of swabs pile up at both the state owned National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) and private institutions because of a severe shortage of testing equipment and personnel; ultimately compromising both the quality and utility of the results.

The sharp increase on COVID-19 infections according to the latest media reports especially in Gauteng, the Western and Eastern Cape means that the shortage of testing equipment at these institutions could see the management of the disease explode out of control with serious consequences for workers’ and community health. It has been months since the NHLS indicated to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health that testing equipment would be urgently imported from abroad but nothing is happening on the ground.

Of deep concern are media reports showing that some employers are discouraging workers from go for testing if a co-worker tests positive for COVID-19 advising to either continue working or self-quaranting at home. This is a violation of COVID -19 Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Protocols which require that a workplace be immediately evacuated and deep cleansed once an infection has been confirmed; and health authorities notified. The problem is that this behaviour by employers will only cause employees to remain silent and not declare if they’ve been in contact with a (confirmed) COVID patient, or worse where they themselves have symptoms but keep coming to work out of fear of losing their jobs.  In the end, that will only serve to exacerbate the spread of the virus.

“Test, test, test” has been the mantra for defeating the novel coronavirus. Early reports by the National Health Laboratory Service indicated that it had the capacity to do 36 000 tests a day by the end of April 2020. But the capability to do so has not materialised. Currently, the number of tests received in laboratories exceeds their capacity to deliver results within 12-24 hours of sampling. In many parts of the country, turnaround time has increased from 24 hours to over 5-14 days. According to correspondence we have seen, some labs with the capacity to do 1 000 tests a day have a backlog of 10 000.

‘’It remains the responsibility of the health department to see to it that blockages in the system are resolved with the urgency demanded the situation. The logistical burden of testing should not be placed on the shoulders of workers; what is more, the psychological stress of the endless waiting for test results has negative effect on workers’ mental health and is a violation of their rights,” says FEDUSA General Secretary Riefdah Ajam.


(277 Words)

For interviews please contact:

Ms Riefdah Ajam

FEDUSA General Secretary

079 696 2625

Issued by:

Frank Nxumalo

FEDUSA Media and Research Officer

072 637 8096