Voluntary doctors set up Brussels' first Covid-19 testing centre

Voluntary doctors set up Brussels' first Covid-19 testing centre
Medical staff taking a nasal swab sample of a resident to be tested for Covid-19 at nursing home in Namur in April 2020. Credit: Belga/Benoit Doppagne

The first municipal Covid-19 testing centre has been set up in Brussels by a group of doctors working voluntarily in an effort to ease hospital staff.

An organisation called Médecine pour le Peuple (MPLP) launched the initiative in its antennae in Molenbeek at the beginning of June, making it the first testing centre in Brussels outside hospitals.

The centre was set up by MPLP doctors in an effort to create a centralised PCR testing platform which would widen access to testing and prevent non-urgent cases from clogging up hospital wards.

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Patients who have received a doctor's note to get tested for the new coronavirus can come to the centre in Molenbeek instead of a hospital and get the PCR tests, which consists of a nasal and throat swab.

"It's a testing centre that's close to the people — we set it up to free up hospital resources and to avoid exhausting hospital staff," Patricia Polanco, coordinator at Molenbeek's MPLP said.

"We think that a testing centre at the municipal level can divert traffic from hospitals and help them focus on the most serious cases," she added.

Testing for Covid-19 can currently be done in hospitals or by general practitioners, but other centralised testing centres have already been set up in Flanders, Polanco said.

Doctors at the centre work on a voluntary basis because Polanco said that they were not able to get support from the region.

"It's very slow, very bureaucratic — we did not fit into the criteria. For example, the [social security body] INAMI says that there should only be one testing centre per 100,00 residents," Polanco said, referring to hospitals located not far from the centre.

The only support they have from public authorities has been the premises of the testing centre, provided by the municipality of Molebeek, with whom negotiations are ongoing for them to take over the testing centre.

Hanne Bosselaers, a general practitioner at MPLP, told Bruzz that financial support from regional authorities would greatly benefit local testing efforts in Belgium.

Citing the daily figures, federal health officials have said that the virus' is losing steam in Belgium, meaning the workload at hospitals is decreasing.

Polanco said that the centre will continue offering tests until the beginning of July, saying it would ease the schedules of the doctors working on a voluntary basis and coincide with a drop in demand throughout the summer.

"We would like to continue, and if Belgium is ever faced with a new surge of cases, we would be able to set the centre back up within 24 hours."

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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