The local health care system received a major boost today, as the multi-million dollar Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory officially opened its doors.
The 20, 000 square feet facility, which is located just opposite the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) on Martindale’s Road, comes as Government continues to examine ways of reforming the public health care system in the face of unforgiving economic conditions.
The new state-of-the-art, two-storey lab is the amalgamation of three former public health laboratories – the Public Health Laboratory, the Ladymeade Reference Unit and the Leptospira Laboratory.
Funding to the tune of $12 million was provided by United States through a memorandum of understanding. Construction of the facility took approximately five and a half years.
Addressing the opening ceremony this evening, Minister of Health John Boyce said the lab, which was to initially open last November, formed part of the ministry’s strategy towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
“It is important to acknowledge that Barbados and other small island developing states in the Caribbean are faced with grave fiscal challenges in the context of a growing demand on the health care needs of our peoples,” acknowledged Boyce.
“It is therefore the aim of the Ministry of Health to maintain an equitable health care system and simultaneously promote self reliance. Assessing and optimizing laboratory services are an important aspect of our health sector reform efforts,” he added.
Boyce said the amalgamation of the laboratory services would strengthen the existing health care services, adding that the new facility demonstrated “our commitment to quality, innovation, sustainability and reliability”.
The facility, which boasts biosafety level three capacity and has the ability to withstand a category three hurricane, will have the capability for an enhanced range of tests, including hematology, serology, molecular biology, tuberculosis bacteriology, chemistry and pathology.
“It is worthwhile to note that Barbados will benefit not only from economies of scale, with respect to laboratory services, but it is also quite heartening to be able to inform you that Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory has the capacity to undertake certain testing, for example Zika and Chikungunya, which would have been otherwise referred to the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad,” the Minister of Health said.
Officials are hoping that the laboratory will also become a major reference point for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and the wider region, with Boyce promising that he would be ensuring full accreditation “in a timely manner”.
US Ambassador to Barbados Linda Taglialatela said the US government was moved to provide assistance in light of Barbados providing HIV diagnosis and treatment to at least six Easter Caribbean states with a lack of dedicated space for those services.
“This laboratory will increase the capacity of Barbados to deliver essential HIV related services and other diagnostic functions,” said Taglialatela.
Meanwhile, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George said the new lab was evidence of “capacity building” in the local health care system.
“It is our intention to continue to nurture and care this place so that we can reap the major successes in the future,” he said.
“I strongly believe that public health should represent the building of policies and programmes to strengthen the health and wellness of our population, drawing on the attributes of information sharing, strategic planning, quality assurance, and monitoring and evaluation,” he added.