As part of their emergency response plans, Gizo health authorities are proposing that the Tuberculosis (TB) GeneXpert machine in Gizo hospital be used to test for COVID-19.

The TB GeneXpert Machine has been used since the opening of the new Gizo hospital. It was funded by the World Health Organization.

Caretaker of Gizo Laboratory Ricky Eddie says the TB GeneXpert machine has the capacity to test for COVID-19 as well. He said what they have in their laboratory is similar to the GeneXpert machine at the National Referral Hospital.

“The only difference is the cartridge”, Mr. Eddie says.

He says the specialised cartridges have been developed specifically for COVID-19, but it can be used in existing TB GeneXpert testing machines.

Eddie said that with the COVID-19 pandemic the TB GeneXpert has become an important asset for them.

Mr. Eddie said for them, living in an area classified as an ‘emergency zone’, anything can happen.

“We only need the COVID-19 cartridges and safety cabinets for the lab workers”, he said.

“Currently the machine is running with a single module, where results can be run within two hours per test sample. 

"The other module is yet to be recalibrated to complete the entire function of the machine. Gizo Hospital at the moment is yet to prepare itself,” Mr Eddie said.

Provincial Health Director, Dr Dickson Boare says the Western Provincial Health are working in unison with the national health sector on health services and facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Gizo lab team is looking into the idea of using the machine, based on their scientific perspective, but it is up to the head authorities to see if we still can use it or we need a new one in place for this COVID-19,” Dr Boare said.

Solomon Islands already has ten GeneXpert machines, including those in the provinces, and are normally used to detect tuberculosis.

GeneXpert was widely deployed in developing countries about a decade ago to rapidly detect tuberculosis, including multi-drug resistant strains.

It has since been adapted to enable rapid testing of many other pathogens, including not only HIV and hepatitis C, but also influenza, Ebola, and sexually transmitted infections.

US Food & Drug Administration authorization of a rapid COVID-19 test on the GeneXpert platform - one of the most widely used TB diagnostic tool in developing countries - could be a game changer in the fight against COVID-19.