Kohima: The much awaited bio-safety laboratory level-3 (BSL-3) at Naga Hospital Authority Kohima, which began on April 18, was inaugurated by Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio on Thursday, scripting history for the state’s healthcare system. The virology lab — the first in the state — had earlier received approval from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on May 14; COVID-19 sample tests will begin on Friday.
“The only thing to control [the virus] is to test and test and to contain the spread. So, we will be doing the test here in our state,” said CM Rio, as he inaugurated the virology laboratory. The basic essential features of BSL3 laboratory include bio safety cabinet, unidirectional air flow using room pressure gradients of negative pressure, exhaust air being HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtered and procedures for proper disposal of lab waste.
The virology laboratory, which is “dedicated to the people” of Nagaland, has achieved another “milestone” in the history for the state’s healthcare system, he said. As Nagaland has been sending samples to the neighboring states of Assam and Manipur for COVID-19 testing, Rio acknowledged both states for their support towards the state during this time of a global COVID-19 pandemic. Besides the COVID-19 testing, he emphasized that the laboratory will be beneficial in conducting researches and tests for other viral diseases when the need arises. The lab is also applicable to clinical, diagnostic, research or production facilities.
Nagaland health secretary Kesonyu Yhome said that since the testing of COVID-19 cannot be carried out in any normal laboratory, the state realised the need to set up a Bio Safety Level (BSL-3) laboratory. As the state government approved to set up bio safety laboratories (BSL level 3 in Kohima and BSL level2 in Dimapur), the work in Kohima began on April 16 and took around 25 days to complete but delayed by few days owing to supply chain issues during lockdown and unfavorable weather conditions, he informed.
Subsequently, on the basis of validation of documentation and quality check run tests, the ICMR approval was received to initiate testing for clinical specimens for COVID-19. He also said that the lab can become a “focal hub for research works” in the Northeast region.
During the brief inaugural programme, health minister Pangnyu Phom said that the setting up of the laboratory began with the lab design and layout plan. He highlighted how the laboratory construction was delayed due to the nation-wide lockdown and the weather condition in the state.
“Scientific instruments were imported from USA, Germany and Singapore. When the consignments had reached Nagaland, our team also faced difficulties with local logistics, such as crane, transportation and manpower. The unfavourable stormy weather also set us back on our timeline. Actual physical work in Kohima could start only on 18th April,” he said.
Saying that the laboratory construction will normally require six months for construction in the state, however, it has been completed in a month’s time. He also congratulated and thanked all who have worked hard for the construction of the laboratory. “With the commissioning of this facility, we are ready for COVID-19 testing and I am proud to say that we now have the best facility in the whole of NE India,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, a bio-safety sample collection booth, developed by the Nagaland Institude of science and technology was also inaugurated by the health minister. The portable sample collection booth will be sent to the government facility quarantine centres for sample testing.
Dr Joshua, a research scientist, told media persons that the laboratory is equipped to test 90 COVID-19 samples in a day and that the samples will likely be tested from Friday onwards. He also informed that there are four research scientists, three technicians, two lab technicians, two security personnel and one analyst who will be engaged in the laboratory.
Due to manpower and machine limitations, he said the samples will take 10-12 hours for results of samples to be declared. He added that the experts engaged will be working on a six-hour shift on a rotational basis without access to anything other than the work assigned.