Uganda: Covid-19 Lab Locked Over Tenancy Disagreement

2 September 2020

Operations at the Lancet Laboratories located on Madhvani Building on Buganda Road were brought to a standstill yesterday morning after their premises were locked, denying staff entry.

Dr Robert Lukande, the pathologist-in-charge at Lancet Laboratories, said the landlord had raised issues of the safety of housing a Covid-19 testing centre last week, arguing that some occupants of the same building were uncomfortable with it.

"We communicated to him clearly that we are a diagnostic lab and we ensure that there is safety of the public and the patients but he still did not get the science and the logic," Dr Lukande said.

The laboratory, which is located on the ground floor, is one of the three private facilities accredited to carry out testing for coronavirus in the country.

The others are MBN Clinical Laboratories and Medipal Hospital. A test for Covid-19 at Lancet costs Shs344,900.

A number of those seeking to get tested for Covid-19 were referred to other testing centres.

Dr Lukande said the interruption in their operations not only stifles efforts against the pandemic but could endanger patients of other diseases who need results urgently.

"We had specimens in there, not only of Covid-19 but of other diseases that require urgent testing and resulting because doctors are relying on them to offer care," Dr Lukande said.

He added: "This is our nerve centre. In there, we house a big server that serves all our labs in the country and also connects us to our network in South Africa."

Ms Viola Nakidde, a manager at Lancet Laboratories, said the closure of the lab was unfounded and illegal.

"The World Health Organisation and Ministry of Health have all released guidelines on prevention and control and Lancet has taken care of all that," Ms Nakidde said.

Incidents of stigmatisation of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 or those suspected to have the disease continue to rise and experts warn that this could negate the fight against the pandemic by scaring people away from testing.

"The stigma is growing, especially for people who have tested positive and now we are seeing it come to the laboratories and we think it might set back the efforts of government towards controlling the pandemic," Dr Lukande said.

The lab started receiving Covid-19 samples two weeks ago and gets approximately 80-100 samples from walk-ins and organisations seeking to have employees tested.

Dr Lukande explained that moving the PCR laboratory would mean a down time of about two weeks.

"We need to set up, then call in the validation team to see, then to check that there are no air escapes anywhere and there is the safety hood machine, which is heavy. We will need to call in our suppliers to lift it and move to a new site."

Dr Lukande said the lab has occupied the premises for seven years and entered into a tenancy agreement as a laboratory.

Mr Paul Kuteesa of Arcadia Advocates, the legal representatives of the Madhivani Group, however, said the lab was locked because of a breech of tenancy agreement by the tenant.

He did not elaborate and declined to comment on how the act may stifle efforts to fight the pandemic.

Government reacts

Dr Charles Olaro, the director curative services at the Ministry of Health, said since the facility was accredited, there is no risk posed to other occupants.

Mr Olaro added that the Health ministry has a plan dedicated to fighting the stigma around the disease. "In the response plan, there is a sub plan dedicated to psycho-social support, which we are working with the ministry of Gender to disseminate information," he said.

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