Within a matter of weeks Barbados should have its own public health laboratory capable of doing a number of the tests which it currently relies on the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) to do on its behalf.
Minister of Health John Boyce made the revelation last night, saying the Barbados Public Health Reference Laboratory, to be located opposite the main Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Martindale’s Road, is due for formal opening on November 29.
Addressing the launch of a CARPHA training workshop on the use of technology in fight the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, Boyce noted that last year Zika samples had to be sent to the CARPHA laboratory in Trinidad for testing.
But while suggesting that the importance of public health laboratories in the delivery of health services could not be understated, the Minister of Health said the new domestic laboratory would have the capacity to test for a number of conditions currently referred to CARPHA.
“It also has the capacity to extend its services to the OECS [Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and wider Caribbean,” Boyce added.
He expressed Government’s gratitude to the “the United States Government for majority funding and project management of the construction of this state-of-the-art biosafety level 3 laboratory”.
So far this year, Barbados has recorded 39 suspected cases of Zika, three of which have been confirmed, representing a significant decline from 2016. The Ministry of Health has also reported that since Chikungunya surfaced in Barbados in 2014 with 1,851 suspected cases and 139 confirmed ones, “the number of reported cases has dropped significantly.
“In 2015, for the period January to July there were 63 suspected cases and four confirmed ones while for the same period in 2016, there were 113 suspected cases and none confirmed,” Boyce said, while warning that the Aedes Aegypti mosquito remains an ever present health and economic threat for which Barbadians must remain on their guard.
In fact, he quoted World Bank Group estimates which indicate “that the short and long term economic impact of Zika for Latin American and Caribbean countries will be a US$3.5 billion loss to GDP, with tourism dependent countries such as ours particularly affected.
“Added to this, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation estimates that a 2.4 per cent decline in tourism corresponding to an adverse impact of US$200-$400 million can be expected within our region,” Boyce noted.