As Japan reopens, coronavirus testing slowed by bureaucracy and staff shortages

first_imgAt the beginning of April, a young Japanese sumo wrestler known as Shobushi came down with a fever. His coaches tried calling a local public health center to get him a coronavirus test, but the phone lines were busy.For four days, he was turned away by clinics in Tokyo overwhelmed during a surge of COVID-19 cases. He was finally admitted to hospital on April 8 when he began coughing up blood, but died of the disease on May 13, the Japan Sumo Association said.Shobushi’s death caused a public outcry over Japan’s testing limitations and reliance on overstretched public health centers at a time when most experts say widespread virus checks are crucial to contain the pandemic. Critics say vested interests and bureaucracy inside Japan’s health ministry caused bottlenecks at overworked public health centers, and officials waited too long to allow private labs to run tests.”It is true that announced figures for infection and deaths are low, but those are based on the tests that were curbed,” said Yasuharu Tokuda, the director of the Muribushi Okinawa Center for Teaching Hospitals. “It is clear that there are quite a few [cases] that have fallen through the cracks.”Even the government’s top advisor, Shigeru Omi, told parliament “nobody knows” whether the true number of coronavirus cases “could be 10 times, 12 times or 20 times more than reported.”Omi’s panel of experts has called on the government to speed up testing, including of people with mild symptoms.The health ministry said it is ramping up the use of private labs to reduce the workload on public health centers.”Our stance that tests should be conducted on people in need has been consistent from the beginning. We have had testing capacity increased continuously,” Takuma Kato, a senior health ministry official, told Reuters.”Not enough” testsPublic health centers are at the forefront of Japan’s response to the pandemic. While South Korea bolstered its public health system in the wake of past epidemics, Japan has halved the number of public health centers since the 1990s.Struggling with overworked staff and flooded with calls, public health centers have asked the government to allow more private clinics to administer polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.Japan says it can run up to 22,000 PCR tests a day, but less than a third – around 6,000 tests – are actually conducted on a daily basis. About 75% of tests have been processed through public health centers and government institutions, according to the health ministry.In a previously unreported May 6 letter, the association of public health centre directors urged Katsunobu Kato, the minister of health, to overhaul Japan’s testing policy.”Currently, there are not enough PCR tests conducted for the coronavirus,” they wrote in the letter seen by Reuters.Some regional governments have begun running temporary testing stations with the help of local medical associations in April, bypassing public centers.Idle labs, unused machinesWhile public health centers are overwhelmed, university labs are sitting idle.Shinya Yamanaka, a Nobel Prize-winning stem cell biologist at Kyoto University, has offered his lab to boost testing capacity.”If we can make good use of resources at places like university labs, PCR testing can exceed 100,000 [per day], far more than 20,000,” Yamanaka said in an internet TV debate with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 6.The health ministry welcomed his proposal, but said further considerations were needed.”We are grateful for their offer of help at this time of emergency. We want to work together, carefully matching our needs to their offer,” Masami Sakoi, the assistant health minister, told Reuters.Critics say testing was limited, in part, by health ministry technocrats who wanted to maintain a tight grip on information, rather than cooperate with private institutions.Kenji Shibuya, who heads the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, said officials wanted to gather high-quality research data using public health centers.The health ministry denies suggestions that ministry technocrats are intentionally curbing testing, and say their approach has proven successful so far.Sakoi from the health ministry said it was important to carry out PCR tests that doctors deemed necessary, and pointed out Japan’s public insurance system started covering the tests in March as part of the government’s effort to make them more accessible. “When we think about using the test results to form policy measures, the current method needs to be maintained for the time being though concerns that it lacks flexibility for boosting the number of tests is understandable,” Sakoi said.Still, the approach is alarming some experts.”It’s safer to assume that Japan has just been lucky than to believe it has taken the right steps,” said Tokuda, the epidemiology expert. With Japan lifting its state of emergency and reopening its economy this week, its pandemic response has been hailed as an unlikely success. In a global death toll of more than 300,000, Japan has confirmed around 800 deaths from 16,000 cases.Yet at the same time, Japan ranks the second lowest in its testing among OECD countries.As of May 20, Japan conducted 3.4 tests per 1,000 people, far below Italy’s 52.5 and 39 in the United States, according to Oxford University data. South Korea has carried out tests on 15 people per 1,000 people.In more than a dozen interviews with Reuters, public health officials, doctors and experts warned Japan’s slow scaling up of tests could mask the scale of infections and make its population vulnerable to future outbreaks.center_img Topics :last_img read more

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MFA Gets Support from US Group

first_imgAn international humanitarian organization, Anything is Everything, based in the United States on Wednesday donated several football items to the Monrovia Football Academy (MFA).The items included footballs, jerseys, boots, pumps, books, among others.Darlington Martor, a Liberian based in the US, said the donation was to encourage the young players of the Academy.“I was just like any other kid that loved and played soccer when I was in Liberia. We did not have access to soccer materials and I feel that these kids should be helped to play the game they enjoy,” he said. He said he launched his non-profit organization (Anything is Everything) with his friend from college to collect materials and send them to Liberia.Martor, who has been out of Liberia for over 17 years, called on the kids at the academy to focus on their education and sports, adding that “I know many of you are from West Point and there are many kids out there who do not have this opportunity, so take full advantage of the school, and on the field. This is what got me where I am today.”Martor also disclosed that the organization will be donating a 20 foot container full of non-food items, including health related materials, to two non-profit organizations (More Than Me Foundation in West Point and Restoring Hope in Lofa County) that support and empower vulnerable Liberian girls and boys in underprivileged areas in the country. Receiving the items on behalf of the academy, co-founder Sekou Manubah thanked the organization for the materials, noting that even a single ball and set of training kits are very important to the academy.“This is not something small; it is a very huge contribution to our academy, especially these books. The kids really appreciate it, because you might not find them in other schools and our kids are opportune to have them free of charge because of your organization,” he said. “Anything is Everything” is an organization established in the US by six Connecticut college graduates and close friends who are passionate about contributing to the betterment of the global society.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)last_img read more

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