From: Esmerelda Keta
Concession Closes State Laboratory Certified to Conduct COVID-19 Testing

On July 17, the Minister of Health Ogerta Manastirlliu, accompanied by the Head of the Microbiology Laboratory, Andi Koraqi and Silva Bino, Head of the Reference Laboratory at the IPH, inspected the QSUT laboratory and shared the news that tests could now be performed in this laboratory as well. in ‘Real-Time PCR’ for SARS-CoV-2 identification.

“With the opening of this second laboratory, we create good bases to increase and develop testing, which in fact will continue to have a key objective: tracking cases and isolating them,” said Manastirliu.

Manastirliu stressed that the Ministry of Health had as its primary goal the testing, tracking, isolation and the possibility of limiting and interrupting the chain of infection.

“This certified laboratory, as promised, will increase testing capacity and respond to the testing strategy carried out with the expertise of the Technical Committee of Experts,” she added.

But not even two weeks after this statement, Manastirliu has ordered that this laboratory be closed. The decision was made at the request of the concessionaire, who has won the right to become the owner of all laboratories and analyses that will be conducted on residents and citizens in public hospitals, with a value of 95 million euros.

At the height of the pandemic and after the certification for performing molecular tests for the identification of SARS-CoV-2, the Immunology laboratory at QSUT will be shut down, while the staff of 73 medical personnel is expected to be fired.

The head of the Immunology Laboratory, Andi Koraqi, declined to comment to BIRN, either by telephone or e-mail.

“I do not give explanations either by phone or e-mail, I give explanations only if you leave an appointment and come to QSUT”, declared Koraqi.

We received almost the same answer from the press office at QSUT.

“To get an answer as to what will happen to the laboratory staff and whether it will continue to carry out COVID-19 analysis or not, you should make an official request either to the human resources or to the head of the laboratory,” said the press office.

The concession contract “For the provision of laboratory services to university, regional and municipal hospitals of Saranda and Lushnja” was signed on April 24, 2019, by Deputy Prime Minister Erion Brace, in the absence and by order of Prime Minister Edi Rama.

The laboratory concession was won in April 2017 by a consortium of three companies; Labopharma with 41.7%, Exalab France with 25% and AB Laboratory Solution BV, a company registered in the Netherlands with 33% share in the consortium.

According to an audit of the Supreme State Audit, one of the main issues assessed as deficient in the feasibility study drafted by the Ministry of Health for the concession of laboratories is the staff costs which are estimated to be excessive as a result of outdated equipment that is used.

“The human resources of the public laboratory service include about 504 employees in 18 laboratories, while this number is expected to be reduced to about 390 employees according to the proposal of the feasibility study, with the most affected category of layoffs being laboratory doctors,” says KLSH.

Although in the new situation created by the new coronavirus pandemic, the staff of doctors and laboratory technicians at QSUT underwent during the last weeks the training for the realization of the analysis for SARS-CoV-2. Then on Tuesday inside the premises of this institution a notice has been posted according to which the laboratory will now be transferred to the ownership of the concessionaire.

“Closing of the existing laboratory structures in QSUT: Immunological Laboratory, clinical biochemical laboratory, microbiological laboratory due to the rights of the concessionaire”, it is said in the notice posted in the interior of this laboratory.

As a result, the medical staff will no longer be from QSUT but of the concession company, so apparently there will be dismissals, despite the fact that they are specialized and trained.

The announcement posted at the University Hospital Center of Tirana states that the dismissals will be announced before the end of August.

Dismissal of 73 employees in the service of the Immunological Laboratory, the service of the clinical biochemical laboratory as well as in the service of the microbiological laboratory, currently appointed to the positions: “Doctor”, “Chief Laboratory Assistant”, “Biologist”, “Laboratory Assistant”, “Nurse” and “animal caretaker “, it said in the announcement.

But the staff affected by this decision claims that they have not been told what exactly will happen to them, while they have been employed for years by QSUT and have an employment contract with this institution.

“We still do not know what will happen to us, a notice has been placed on the door and so… they have told us that they will terminate our contract with the state and will sign a contract with the concessionaire, a Greek company ‘Pegasus’ but in the meantime, the announcement says that the staff will be fired… we want to know what will happen to us, “said a member of the medical staff of this laboratory who did not want to be named.

The doctors of the laboratory say that the ‘absurdity’ lies in the fact that after being trained for a long time to perform tests for COVID-19, they already want to dismiss exactly a considerable part of this staff.

“We trained for a long time on this and as soon as we started dealing with this part, now they want to fire us,” a concerned doctor said.

Tritan Shehu, former Minister of Health and opposition MP, says that what is happening was expected but sees it as a fatal mistake the concession of laboratories of QSUT.

“We had warned that the staff would be affected as soon as the concessionaire received it and what is being done with the laboratories of QSUT is unforgivable,” he said.

“QSUT laboratories are not just laboratories, they are scientific research institutions, they can apply new systems, they do not have a set of standard analyzes, but they can also deal with innovations, so they are a national asset and you can not leave this asset in private hand, ”concluded Shehu.

Previously published on on July 29, 2020.