Yangyel Lhaden

Following the health ministry’s technical advisory group (TAG) direction, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) on February 15 started rapid Covid-19 antigen tests for admission of patients and attendants.

During the lockdown, JDWNRH used RT-PCR tests for admission of patients and attendants due to high risks of transmission.

A clinical microbiologist and member of TAG, Dr Tshokey, said that the team was reassured that the rapid antigen test could replace the RT-PCR test, as there was no positive case detected even after the end of the second lockdown two weeks ago.

Dr Tshokey said that the rapid antigen test was applicable only for admission and not for referrals.

Medical Superintendent of JDWNRH, Dr Gosar Pemba, assented that it was reliable for the hospital to use the rapid antigen test, as there was no community transmission. “If the situation improves, we can expect more relaxation measures at the hospital.”

The hospital, Dr Gosar Pemba said, used GeneXpert, which gives Covid-19 test results within 90 minutes, for emergency cases such as pregnant women during the lockdown.

Many complained about delays in the RT-PCR result.  An RT-PCR test takes about six hours to show the result.

Hospital officials said that the samples were screened at Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) which took longer than six hours due to the large number of samples.

To accelerate the testing process, JDWNRH set up a Covid-19 testing lab within its premises on January 12, the second such testing lab established in Thimphu after RCDC.

Though the hospital set up a Covid-19 testing lab, the six-hour wait was long for attendants of pregnant women.

A woman, who gave birth during the second lockdown, said that it was “emotional torture” to deliver alone in the hospital while her husband waited outside for a test result.  Other women expressed similar concerns.

During the second lockdown, the hospital’s birthing centre recorded a total of 367 new births.

Dr Gosar Pemba said that it was a difficult time and that the hospital could not be complacent. “We have only limited GeneXpert kits. No one can enter the hospital without a negative result, as per our protocol,” he said, adding that the public should understand the risks of local transmission.

According to a health official, there are only 45 beds in the delivery section of the hospital and that women, who came with labour pain, had to deliver in an emergency tent.

In its efforts to prevent the virus, JDWNRH has initiated mobile clinics, teleconsultations, and outpatient department services during lockdown and post-lockdown.