Current Affairs
COVID-19 tests in Malta – what work is being done by scientists at Mater Dei?

A team of scientists at Mater Dei Hospital come up against Covid-19 on a daily basis.  Although they do not actually see it, through equipment they have in their laboratory they can feel its presence.

The programme Ras imb ras, which was transmitted on Wednesday night, interviewed one of the scientists about the procedures being used in the testing.

Within a few days, the work at the Pathology lab at Mater Dei has increased considerably and in fact, at first, an average of 300 tests daily were being carried out, which have now gone up to almost 500.

Stephanie Meli, from the Maltese Association of Biomedical Scientists said, “you cannot see the virus, not even through the majority of microscopes we have in our laboratories.”

Therefore a very sensitive system is required which is capable of catching Covid-19 even when the patient is not even aware that he has it.

”A small amount of genetic code is amplified into a larger amount so that us scientists can use our equipment to catch the virus we would have grown in order to know whether it is present in the sample which has been taken.”

The test is an elaborate one and takes time.

”At the moment, for 50 tests take us at least five hours…I am including everything. Once the result is ready, a scientist authorises it and sends it to the doctor who would have ordered it, to the hospital CEO and to the Public Health CEO.

The statistics which are being announced during the press conference, about how many tests are being carried out and how many have proved positive, all come from this laboratory.

”Before this in one day we used to have 3 runs. Now we have 4 runs. One at 9am, at 1pm, at 5pm and the last one at 9pm. The final reporting of results is at 2am.”

”We are often reporting the results of the four shifts from the previous day. If a press conference takes place a bit later we can sometimes even include the counts from 9am as well.”

Stephanie Meli explained the importance of confidentiality of the scientists’ work in these laboratories.

”When it comes to data protection and everything else, we receive a sample which is ID-ed because we need to go back to it, but we only pass on the information to the health authority and carry out follow ups with the patient concerned.”

Malta is one of the countries in the world which is carrying out the most tests for Coronavirus.

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