Virus experts from the Pan American Health Organization have been training laboratory technicians here and elsewhere in the Caribbean to identify and respond to potential imported cases of the new coronavirus now known officially as COVID-19.
Training began in Suriname, followed by Barbados and Haiti, and will continue later this week in Jamaica, Belize and Dominica, PAHO said.
The Bahamas and Guyana are next in line for training, the agency said.
Last week, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) based in Trinidad reported that its laboratory is ready to respond to the new coronavirus. This week, the Government’s Best-Dos Santos laboratory said it’s ready to test for the presence of the virus. So far, one patient under quarantine has tested negative.
Yitades Gebre, PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and Eastern Caribbean said: “As one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, the Caribbean must prepare to detect and respond quickly to imported cases of COVID-19.
“Providing countries with the reagents and knowledge needed to perform early diagnosis is key for outbreak response and protecting our populations.”
The laboratories selected for training are those that already provide testing for influenza. This means that instead of developing a laboratory from scratch, the protocol recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and PAHO for testing for COVID-19 can be added to countries’ existing protocols for influenza testing.
“We know that a country’s health system is most likely to be the first point of entry for a suspected case of new coronavirus,” said Sylvain Aldighieri, Deputy Director of the Health Emergencies Department at PAHO.
“The training being carried out by PAHO in influenza laboratories in the region is the most effective way to equip countries with the ability to detect, monitor and respond to cases in a timely manner.”
During the training, laboratories, which include both National Influenza Centres are provided with the diagnostic materials required to test for COVID-19, PAHO said, includes primers, probes and positive controls.
Participants are then trained in the main tests and protocols available and carry out a practical exercise of molecular detection, it said.
The laboratory training currently underway in the Caribbean forms part of an overall initiative to ensure that 29 laboratories are ready to detect COVID-19 in the region by as early as a week from Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta will serve as the regional reference laboratory, according to PAHO.
Apart from Caribbean laboratories, PAHO has also led training in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, said the Washington-based regional arm of the WHO.
This week, training will also be hosted by the Ministry of Health of Mexico for six Central American nations, including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.