The Ministry of Health is merging three of the island’s public health laboratories. The objective is to strengthen existing operations and provide additional services to other Caribbean countries.
Minister of Health John Boyce said the amalgamation of the Ladymeade Reference Unit, the Public Health Laboratory and the Leptospirosis Laboratory would also optimize the delivery of lab services, rationalize the use of laboratory reagents and streamline the allocation of laboratory personnel.
In an address yesterday to a consultation on a National Laboratory Policy for Barbados, Boyce said the construction of the new Barbados National Reference Laboratory was being funded by the Government of Barbados, which is providing $6 million towards the project, and $12 million from the US Centers for Disease Control and the State Department.
Boyce stated his ministry had also facilitated the development of a comprehensive strategic plan for medical labs, as “the Government of Barbados has always been committed to augmenting laboratory services in order to maintain a high standard of care”.
Chief among the deliverables of the policy, the minister said, were national standards and regulations for laboratory operations, as well as active encouragement of evidence.
Boyce told the meeting that Barbados was a signatory to the International Health Regulations (IHR), which required countries to report the occurrence of disease outbreaks and public health events to the World Health Organization.
“These regulations also require countries to strengthen their existing capacities for public health surveillance and response, thereby making quality laboratory services essential for IHR implementation,” he said.
He added that while laboratory functions were a cornerstone of a good public health system, clinical and public health laboratories in the region continued to face challenges and barriers to optimal service, including inadequate legislation, lack of accreditation, inadequate human resource development and regional coordination.
“The Caribbean, while faced with ongoing challenges arising from the epidemic of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and HIV, is also expected to exercise vigilance against new and re-emerging infectious diseases.
“We are well aware that outbreaks of highly infectious diseases will not only reverse many of the gains made in public health in recent decades, but can also throw our region into a downward economic and social spiral,” Boyce said.
Boyce said despite the challenges, regional health officials were committed to establishing safe, accurate, reliable and capable laboratory services to facilitate the early detection of known and unknown pathogens.
“Since the early 1990s, initiatives have been undertaken to improve the framework quality of laboratory operations in the Caribbean. The importance of high quality laboratory services for maintaining and improving the standard of health cannot be overstated,” he stated.
According to Boyce, a strong lab service is a key pillar for the region to become compliant with IHR by 2016.