Caribbean News

Jamaica among countries to receive more test kits from PAHO

KINGSTON, April 22 (JIS): Jamaica is expected to be among the regional countries to receive coronavirus (COVID-19) test kits from the latest batch being provided by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Director of PAHO, Dr.  Carissa Etienne, said 4.5 million additional Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test kits are being dispatched to member states across North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

“This week, we are dispatching 1.5 million more test kits throughout the region followed by another three million next week, to strengthen [the] laboratory surveillance networks in our member states,” she outlined.

Presentation in April 2020 to Jamaica

These will be in addition to more than 500,000 already supplied to some 34 countries, the Director indicated during a digital media briefing on Tuesday (April 21). 

PAHO indicated that between February 13 and April 15, Jamaica was provided with approximately 19,000 PCR reactions (primers and probes) along with additional material necessary for detecting COVID-19 in samples tested.

The organisation has also provided COVID-19 test training for personnel at the National Influenza Centre, situated at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, and the National Public Health Laboratory.

The PCR technique is used to amplify trace amounts of DNA located in or on almost any fluid or surface where such may be deposited.

The amplified segments are then compared with those from known sources for verification of the specific pathogen for which testing is being conducted.

Dr. Etienne said PAHO’s provisions form part of efforts to assist member countries and territories, totalling about 52, in accelerating and expanding COVID-19 testing, based on the rapid extent to which the disease has spread regionally and globally.

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She informed that as at April 20, the total number of confirmed cases across the region totalled 893,120, of which 42,686 persons have died.

She informed that as at April 20, the total number of confirmed cases across the region totalled 893,120, of which 42,686 persons have died.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness reports that Jamaica’s confirmed cases rose to 233, as at April 21, of which six persons have died, with 27 recovering.

Dr. Etienne argued that as the pandemic continues to impact the region, “it is vital for all countries to actively embrace preventative measures, while preparing for more cases, hospitalisations, and even deaths”.

 “We need a clearer view of where the virus is circulating and how many people have been infected, in order to guide our actions. It is important to accelerate and expand testing to track the spread of COVID-19 in the Americas,” the Director further stressed.

Dr. Etienne said expanded and decentralised testing will enable regional stakeholders to better monitor the pandemic’s trends within each country.

 “Expanded testing will also allow local health authorities to implement and strengthen contact tracing, to quickly isolate suspected cases and break the chain of transmission in communities. When combined with other basic public health measures, testing can be a powerful tool to manage the pandemic and save lives,” the PAHO Director pointed out.

She cited the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Germany where this approach has been successful, and encouraged PAHO member states to “follow their example and expand their existing testing capacities”.

Dr. Etienne said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic declaration, many regional countries were prepared to test and detect cases of the virus.

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She pointed out that by the end of February, PAHO had distributed reagents that were required for PCR testing and provided training for the appropriate use to more than 30 member states.

The Director emphasised that PCR testing remains “the gold standard for diagnosing cases and isolating them”, adding that the application is affordable and highly accurate when performed by well-trained personnel in public health laboratories.

Dr. Etienne said while PAHO continues to provide critical material to maintain this core detection capacity within the region’s public health laboratory network, several countries have found it “increasingly difficult” to sustain this undertaking as the number of cases has increased.

“We fully recognise that ramping up testing capacity for COVID-19 is a challenge for many countries in our region, which limits effective public health measures and the timely access to healthcare. This is partly due to the uneven capacity of health systems to quickly process a large volume of tests,” she indicated.

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Another challenge, Dr. Etienne noted, relates to manufacturers who, she said, “are not providing enough tests as quickly as we need”.

“Even sophisticated companies in our region have been forced to exponentially scale up their supply chains, output capacity, and distribution, in just a couple of months. That level of scale-up is unprecedented. However, we are seeing encouraging signs that the market is starting to catch up,” she said.

Equally important, the Director added, is the need to ensure that these emerging tests are reliable and efficacious.

“The landscape is changing fast and PAHO will continue to help quickly evaluate new tests as they become available. PAHO is providing guidance; therefore, that will support national regulatory authorities and Ministries of Health in making sound decisions. Our platforms and expert teams are available to all member states as a resource to guide and support you,” she added.

Dr. Etienne also underscored the need for equitable access by all member states to the test kits, and encourages manufacturers to work closely with PAHO to ensure this.

She lamented that each death from COVID-19, “represents a life cut short, a family in mourning, and wasted potential for the people of the Americas”.

Against this background, Dr. Etienne said PAHO “sincerely hopes that the measures that have been implemented in many member states, thus far, are sufficient in flattening the curve significantly”.

JIS News by DOUGLAS McINTOSH

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