Tapping into WHO expertise allows Uzbekistan to increase COVID-19 testing

At the start of the COVID-19 epidemic in Uzbekistan, sourcing and installing new equipment to carry out testing in laboratories proved to be difficult. To help strengthen preparedness, WHO/Europe, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the French Embassy in Uzbekistan found innovative ways to repurpose machines already in place in the country’s hospitals.

WHO/Europe and UNFPA collected data which established that there were already 60 polymerase chain reaction systems for rapid detection of different viruses spread out across the country which could potentially be used to test for COVID-19. A group of agencies and specialists, brought together by WHO/Europe, was already collaborating on a pilot study to begin screening for cervical cancer in the country. They guided health authorities to repurpose the machines instead of trying to source new ones.

“The fact that we already had this network in place of people who knew and trusted each other made it possible to find solutions,” says Marilys Corbex, Senior Technical Officer on noncommunicable diseases, WHO/Europe. “The information and expertise we provided helped authorities in Uzbekistan to better understand their options.”

All that was required was for a cartridge to be inserted into an already-available machine to test for COVID-19. This could save resources at a critical time, whilst helping Uzbekistan to take the necessary steps to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

“Authorities in Uzbekistan were trying to find the best test at country level. We showed them that there were machines already being used for HIV and tuberculosis testing, and planned to be used for cervical cancer screening, which could immediately test for COVID-19, saving them time and money,” explains Dr Isabelle Heard, an expert from IARC, who provided technical guidance.

Dr Heard points to the strength of the interdisciplinary and interagency network already in place at the time, which made it possible to adapt quickly and efficiently to the evolving
COVID-19 situation.

Although the repurposed machines were not used for Covid-19 testing in the end, the exercise helped the authorities in Uzbekistan better assess their options and avoid potentially expensive mistakes.

Original source WHO/Europe

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