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SA company accused of running bogus Covid-19 tests

Limpho Sello

LOCAL health professionals have called on the Ministry of Health to investigate a South African company for illegally conducting Coronavirus (Covid-19) tests in the country.

The company, Liselo Laboratories, has been conducting Covid-19 tests for clients such as diamond mining giant, Letšeng Diamonds. But the health professionals, who have coalesced under the banner; Coalition of Health Professionals, insist that the Lisebo is operating illegally as its licence only allows it to screen and not test for the deadly virus.

The coalition has since written to the Ministry of Health and the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) asking them to probe the company’s operations in the country.

Part of the 10 August 2020 letter by the coalition’s president Gertrude Mothibe to the ministry and NACOSEC states that, “In our discussions and presentations of our grievances, one of the critical concerns has been the presence and operations of Liselo Laboratories”.

“We have requested the ministry to look into the legality of this facility as we know that they were operating without a licence.  One of our member associations, the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Lesotho (AMLSL), has been very helpful in providing information on the unscrupulous practices of Liselo.

“Unfortunately, in spite of the ministry requesting Liselo to get a licence for their facility, they have continued to practice without one,” Ms Mothibe states in the letter.

The health ministry’s acting director of health services, Malitaba Litaba, said they were still studying the matter before deciding on the appropriate course of action.

NACOSEC chief executive officer Thabo Khasipe said, “I am aware that Liselo is operating at Letšeng Diamond Mine, doing tests for its staffers hence the coalition’s concern that the company is not licensed to do that job in the country”.

“The issue of testing viruses is very risky. We are talking about a pathogen which is highly infectious and can kill. You cannot let everybody handle it. Even a qualified person must follow certain protocols. For example, there must be a bio-safety cabinet to ensure safety when you are doing tests and handling swabs by sucking in every virus so that it does not spread.

“We were also told by doctors that it is even wrong to refer to a rapid testing kit as a testing tool as this is actually for screening rather than testing. The rapid testing kit does not look for the virus, it merely checks for antibodies and antigens to say whether there was a virus or not. It would be incorrect to call this testing for Covid-19.

“They (Liselo) should not mislead their clients. The ministry should say whether it is giving them a licence or not. In the meantime, they are not supposed to be operating until they get licensed,” Mr Khasipe said.

Liselo’s spokesperson, Victor Ntšekhe, said he would only comment after receiving the “correct information” from his bosses.

Meanwhile, AMLSL president and acting public relations officer of the coalition, Lisema Phafane, has come under fire for accepting a job offer at Liselo despite knowing fully well that it is operating under questionable circumstances.

Mr Phafane previously worked as a laboratory manager at Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital before taking up the post of compliance manager at Liselo on 20 July 2020.

In the same letter to the ministry and NACOSEC, Ms Mothibe said, “it came to our attention that one of our members, Mr Lisema Phafane, is now working for Liselo”.

“This news came as an embarrassing and disappointing information (sic)…

“We had an urgent meeting on this issue and took the decision to withdraw Mr Phafane from participating in the NACOSEC Technical Working Committee, and from the coalition. As such he will not be speaking on any media platform as the coalition’s public relations officer. This was done to maintain the professionalism which we demand from all our members.”

The coalition’s deputy spokesperson, Dr Mojakisane Ramafikeng, also told this publication that it was bewildering that Mr Phafane had taken the Liselo job after all his “sterling work” in raising the coalition’s attention to the fact that the company was operating without a licence.

“Mr Phafane championed the inquiry into Liselo because of his knowledge in the testing field. Unfortunately, he has taken a job at the same laboratory we are fighting to ensure it complies with the law.

“After this discovery, we had no choice but to distance ourselves from Mr Phafane because he used the coalition to achieve his own goals of securing a job. It also paints a very bad image of our association. What he has done makes us appear like opportunists and his behaviour cannot be tolerated,” Dr Ramafikeng said.

On his part, Mr Phafane said, “I asked them (Liselo) for a job so that I could assist them to acquire a licence”.

“I have previously worked for a private laboratory and I know what they need to do to get licensed,” he added.

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