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IMU as One of the Covid-19 Diagnostic Labs for the Ministry of Health

02 Apr 2020

As the number of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia has yet to plateau, the Ministry of Health (MoH) had joined forces with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MoSTI) and the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) to rope in more diagnostic laboratories in its efforts to ramp up its measures and conduct 16,000 tests for the coronavirus (Covid-19) daily1. Working closely with the MoH, the International Medical University (IMU) is one of the private higher institutions who was invited to help conduct these diagnostics tests. In fact, we were the first among this group and IMU started the service for MoH on 27 March 2020. Here’s a look at what goes behind the scenes with Prof Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research (IMU) who is also the former Deputy Director General of Health (Public Health), MoH. He is also a member of the WHO Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework Advisory Group:

What does this mean to the public? Is IMU or its IMU Healthcare Medical Clinic offering Covid-19 tests to the Public?
Datuk Lokman: No, we do not offer the Covid-19 test to the public. We are only helping to test samples collected by MoH. Should the public require Covid-19 testing to be done, please refer to the following providers for home screenings:

  • Bookdoc
  • DoctorOnCall
  • Pantai Premier Pathology
  • Lablink
  • Qualitas Medical Group
  • Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur
  • Twin Tower Medical Centre KLCC
  • Pantai Hospital (Kuala Lumpur / Cheras / Klang / Ayer Keroh)
  • Thompson Hospital
Can any laboratory be turned into a Covid-19 diagnostic lab?
Datuk Lokman: In accordance to the MoH guidelines, not all laboratories can be converted into a Covid-19 diagnostic lab. They must first be equipped with proper safety equipment (such as the Biosafety Cabinet Class II) with stringent filtering processes (such as the High-Efficiency Particulate Air – HEPA) to ensure that harmful bacteria and virus are not released to the environment. This specialised biosafety cabinet provides environmental, product and personnel protection. Aside from this, the required lab must also have an established quality laboratory system such as the ISO15128 and/or ISO17025. As the test method for Covid-19 uses complex procedures, namely the RT-PCR Platform (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction), the laboratory must have the necessary equipment and bio-safety measures in place. Qualified lab personnel who have the experience and are trained to manage this process are essential. 
What are the initiatives and safety precautions undertaken by IMU when accepting and conducting these Covid-19 test?
Datuk Lokman: While our IMU Advanced Microbiology Collaborative Research Laboratory (IMU-AMCRL) meets the strict guidelines required by the MoH, our faculty members who are involved in the testing were provided special training session for Covid-19 RT-PCR testing at the National Public Health Laboratory (Makmal Kesihatan Awam Kebangsaan – MKAK). On a daily basis, we continue to monitor and chart the progress and processes closely to ensure safety and quality standards are not compromised.
How does IMU dispose / discard the specimens after the test is done? Will there be any contamination to the environment?
Datuk Lokman: We follow strictly to the standard biosafety protocol. All waste including the personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by faculty members are autoclaved or sterilised before disposal.
How does IMU ensure the safety of its staff members (and the people around them) who are conducting the tests?
Datuk Lokman: All procedures from receiving the sample until disposal are done in only ONE lab which is the IMU-AMCRL. This enables us to contain everything within the lab and only spilt unit air conditioning is used.   As mentioned earlier, all faculty members involved has been specially trained by MKAK. We have ensured that the work process and workflow is clearly detailed out and each staff is dedicated to specific process only. We have two teams and they work on rotation.
Is the transportation of the specimens to IMU safe?
Datuk Lokman: Yes. The transportation of specimens follows strictly to the WHO guidelines.
Will there be a need for IMU to undergo regular disinfection as the tests are conducted within the IMU Bukit Jalil campus?
Datuk Lokman: The risk of contamination from this diagnostic work is ZERO in other places than the IMU-AMRCL. There isn’t a need to undergo regular disinfection in other areas within the IMU Bukit Jalil campus for this purpose. The virus doesn’t fly!!!
Will I be safe when entering IMU?
Datuk Lokman: Definitely yes! However, unauthorised personnel are not allowed in the IMU-AMRCL.

We would like to take this opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to our faculty members who have volunteered their service for the nation. #StayStrong #StaySafe #StayHealthy

       References: Mosti Provides Helping Hand to MoH in Its Fight Against Covid-19

       Related articles: IRDI Received Viral RNA Extraction Kits from Lions Club KL City to Fight COVID-19

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