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Coronavirus testing machine now on Groote

A new coronavirus testing machine - called "GeneXpert" - has arrived in Groote Eylandt and clinic staff were trained in its operation on Thursday 4th June. The staff kindly let the Language Centre's David Nathan take a sneak preview and find out about the machine and how it is used.

The new GeneXpert coronavirus testing machine
The GeneXpert machine, pictured here, is located in the Alyangula Clinic. It is a brand new unit funded through the Australian Government's rapid COVID-19 Remote Point of Care Testing Program (see our link here).

The machine can provide analysis of a patient's COVID-19 status right here on Groote and the analysis process takes only about 45 minutes. Otherwise, and until now, tests have to be sent off for analysis in laboratory machines in Gove or Darwin and there is a 2 or 3 day wait for results.

The new GeneXpert machine is actually the same type of machine as can be used to test for diseases such as tuberculosis or STIs (sexually transmitted infections). But for COVID-19, special cartridges are used - see the photo below.

Similar machines have also been provided to nearby remote communities including Numbulwar, Ngukurr (Roper), Gapuwiyak, Elcho Island, and Borroloola.

How does it work?

Getting the swab ready to place in the transport tube
To test a patient, a trained nurse wipes a swab (which is like a very long cotton bud) around the patient's upper nose and back of the throat. The swab is then put into a transport tube, labelled with the patient's details, and taken to the GeneXpert machine. The machine will stay located in the Alyangula Clinic, so if the patient is in Angurugu, Umbakumba or Milyakburra the transport tube will be taken to the Alyangula Clinic.

The swab is sealed in the transport tube
To prepare for the testing process, once the transport tube has arrived at the Alyangula Clinic, its contents are poured into the special COVID-19 cartridge, and the trained nurse then places the cartridge into the machine. The machine spends 45 minutes to analyse the patient's sample, and then displays the results on a computer connected to it (see photo). The trained nurse shares the results with the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) in Darwin and will be verified by a doctor before being told to the patient.

The special COVID-19 cartridge
For details and advice about when to contact your clinic, or to speak to a doctor about any concerns, symptoms or treatment, please contact your clinic directly (Angurugu 8987 6317, Umbakumba 8987 6772, Alyangula 8987 6255) or check the NT Government website Coronavirus Safety and Testing.

Note that the GeneXpert machine is likely to be used for strongly suspected cases of coronavirus, and some test samples will continue to be sent to the Gove and Darwin laboratories.

Video: placing the cartridge into the GeneXpert testing machine

Benefits for the communities

Because fast testing is available, a suspected outbreak of coronavirus can be detected, confirmed, and managed very rapidly, which reduces the risk to everybody. By providing results within an hour or so, rather than 2 or 3 days, it will help prevent suspected cases being isolated for several days until results are available.

Although we may be free of COVID-19 risk in the future, the machine is planned to stay on Groote Eylandt, and will be able to test for a variety of diseases to provide long-term benefit for all Groote Eylandters.

- David would like to thank Tina Quirk, the Professional Practice Nurse for Top End Health Service Primary Health, and the Alyangula Clinic.

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