The coronavirus not only affects your physical health, but also takes an emotional toll. If you’ve got yourself tested for the COVID-19 and you believe your test results (whether positive or negative) to be accurate, you are mistaken. A Pakistani living in Karachi named Akbar Saleem (real name not used for privacy purposes) had three well-known hospitals conduct coronavirus tests of his samples, and the results were confusing.
Saleem’s coronavirus tests in Karachi: Two positive, one negative
28-year-old Saleem told Insider Paper that he was not showing any symptoms of COVID-19. He is perfectly healthy. A few days ago, he experienced minor pain in his throat. The pain vanished after gargling a few times. But his family members suggested that he get tested, just in case. He went to the Aga Khan University Hospital on May 25 for testing. The result was COVID-19 positive.
He was not experiencing any symptoms. This is not uncommon because many patients could remain asymptomatic. Saleem had heard stories of a lot of people getting different results from different testing facilities. So, he decided to get himself tested again to see for himself how reliable the test results are.
He got tested for coronavirus by Chughtai Lab on May 26, and at Hashmanis Hospital on May 27. The Chughtai Lab told him that he had contracted the novel coronavirus. But the result from Hashmanis was negative.
Which one of the three coronavirus tests from different Karachi hospitals gave an inaccurate result? Saleem has decided to go for a fourth test to have more concrete data about it.
The Unreliability of coronavirus testing kits
Coronavirus testing is pretty expensive in private hospitals of Pakistan, majority are charging around PKR 8,000-9,000 (50-55 USD). Not everyone can afford two or three tests. Saleem’s test results shed light on one of the most pressing issues facing every country that is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic – the reliability of testing kits.
Experts all over the world have questioned the reliability of COVID-19 testing kits. The sample collection and analysis methods could also be flawed. About $20 million worth of coronavirus testing kits the UK had imported from China were found to be flawed. Spain threw away 640,000 testing kits because only 30% of kits in that batch were giving accurate results. India stopped importing kits from China after it found them to be highly unreliable.
Just to find out the accuracy of coronavirus testing kits, authorities in Tanzania collected samples from a goat, a sheep, and a pawpaw. They assigned human names and ages before sending the samples for testing. The lab technicians were unaware of the origins of samples. Surprisingly, samples from the goat and pawpaw tested positive for coronavirus. The sheep’s result was negative.
Will we ever know the real number of cases?
Some people might be testing positive because of faulty kits. And some might be testing negative even if they have contracted coronavirus. The error in data collection could also affect the number of cases.
A few days ago, Sindh government sent a team to conduct random coronavirus tests on Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) officials in RTO II, Karachi. None of them were showing any symptoms. Many of the test results came out positive. The scared officials got themselves tested again the very next day for confirmation, and this time their results were negative, confirmed a source working in FBR.
The official number of confirmed coronavirus cases could be far from accurate. There are a number of factors at play – unreliable testing kits, under-reporting, hospitals turning away coronavirus patients, or someone playing dirty. We’ll probably never know the truth.