Cross-contamination in Molecular Diagnostic Laboratories in Low- and Middle-income Countries
A Challenge to COVID-19 Testing
At the start of the pandemic, the Philippines had to send swab samples to the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia for COVID-19 confirmation. With the increasing number of suspected cases needing confirmatory diagnostic testing, there was a demand to rapidly expand the capacity for widescale testing. Remarkably, within 200 days from announcement of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the Philippines in January 30, 2020, the country has been able to expand its testing capacity from one national reference laboratory, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), to more than 100 licensed reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and cartridge-based PCR laboratories across the country. Due to the shortage of a trained clinical laboratory workforce, diagnostic centers are forced to hire additional personnel who have limited experience and technical knowledge and skills of molecular assays, especially in processing specimens, interpreting the results, identifying errors, and troubleshooting, in order to meet the demand of increased testing. Thus, the vulnerability to diagnostic errors, including cross-contamination, is increased and with the tendency for generating false positive results that can compromise the health of the patient and disrupt the efficacy of public health policies and public health response, surveillance programs, and restrictive measures for containing the outbreak. Hence, this review article aims to present the different sources of contamination in the laboratory setting where RT-PCR assays are conducted, as well as provide efficient, effective and feasible solutions to address these issues, most especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) like the Philippines.
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