By Gela Megeneishvili
As the largest laboratory in the Caucasus region, MEGALAB deals with more tests in a single day than other laboratories deal with in a month. The strong and stable establishment with modern equipment and a dedicated team has proved to be of great importance whilst facing the pandemic. To understand the efforts the company goes through to deliver top-notch services to its patients, The FINANCIAL reached out to Nino Chikovani, its Clinical Director, to answer its questions.
Q. How have the healthcare habits of patients changed during the pandemic?
A. Coronavirus has drastically changed patient behaviour. While patients were not so quick to test before, as we are now in the middle of flu season, patients are testing even in cases of just a slight temperature rise. The pandemic has brought so much uncertainty and fear, that today every Covid patient closely monitors their health. The statistics are clear and show that patients are visiting us more often to monitor their health.
Q. What do you think is the weakest chain in the healthcare system?
A. If we examine the Georgian healthcare system, hospitals have been in a rough spot during the pandemic. I believe that the primary healthcare system was not as prepared as it could have been, yet, to sum up, I think that Georgia has dealt very well with the pandemic. Even in leading countries such as the US, primary protection equipment (PPE) was quite scarce, while in Georgia it was much easier to access. When the government announced a full lockdown, I believe it was necessary for the country to better prepare for the so-called second wave of the virus. The first wave, as hyped as it was, was not as powerful as in western countries. The appraisal by WHO, which recognised Georgia’s efforts to fight the pandemic, stood us out among other eastern countries.
Q. What safety measures do you have in place in your laboratory?
A. Considering that Covid-19 spreads via droplet contamination, the laboratory is up to all the biohazard standards, which enabled us to participate in the Covid-testing government programme across the country.
On top of that, PPE is being used properly, for which we had several training programmes for lab workers as well as for all the staff at MEGALAB.
Many Covid-infected patients come here, therefore it is crucial that we use protection equipment properly. The focus has always been on the safety of patients. I believe that MEGALAB creates maximum safety for all patients by following protocol and constantly changing PPE to avoid any risks.
Q. Which tests have been the most in-demand during the pandemic?
A. PCR and antigen tests for Covid-19 have been the most in-demand. Considering the flu season, a minor rise in temperature often leads patients to test for Covid. In the event a test is positive, they contact their family doctor and undergo further tests such as blood sampling, kidney tests and much more.
Q. What are the statistics on Covid-19?
In the year 2020, we have conducted more than 92 000 PCR and around 7000 antigen tests. We should note that antigen tests were available at MEGALAB before the Government’s initiation.
Q. How could Georgia improve its healthcare services?
A. MEGALAB is always oriented towards offering better services. Our goal is to create such an environment where patients just step in and get any type of test they desire, while the ultimate goal would be to completely stop relying on sending tests to Europe for credibility, and perform all analysis within our laboratory. I believe that MEGALAB is the establishment that has all the resources and potential to become such an establishment.
Q. What is the difference between tests and screening tests?
A. Tests are for patients who have symptoms, while screening is blind testing by taking random members of the population and testing them individually. We have had cases where screening proved to be quite effective as well.
While the government provides us with antigen tests, we have one of the highest quality PCR tests that have extremely high sensitivity for detecting Covid and even their mutations. MEGALAB is an establishment that can detect all the mutations of Covid-19.
Q. What methods do you implement in the laboratory to avoid risks?
A. From the beginning of the pandemic we have been following the protocol of the Ministry of Healthcare with the collaboration of the Centre for Disease Control. We followed the guidelines cautiously as the doctors are fighting on the frontline and infection of even a single one of them would be problematic to our continuing to provide services.
We have hired a biohazard officer, who has been leading the training of staff and we pursue daily term screening of employees as well as following other interaction guidelines and utilizing PPE such as masks, gloves, waterproof robes, glasses, and face shields.
Our staff has undertaken full training on how to perform safe testing in a non-laboratory environment as well.
Q. How do your laboratory personnel remove biohazard waste from the laboratory?
A. The treatment of biohazards is strictly regulated by the protocol of the Ministry of Healthcare and is followed meticulously.
Q. Can a diagnostics test show how infectious someone is?
A. Current tests are unable to detect the level of infection in patients. What we can currently do is detect whether the virus is found in a patient or not. There is no direct method for detecting risks. When doctors evaluate the potential threat to health they look more at the patient’s history, whether they have a chronic disease, what their current health status is, etc.