The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is implementing a comprehensive plan to support country preparedness efforts for the outbreak associated with the new Coronavirus (COVID-19). This plan includes establishing and strengthening laboratory capacity for early detection of the virus through the public health and reference laboratory networks in the Americas.
The Barbados ‘Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory’ became one of the first in the Caribbean to acquire test kits and reagents for COVID-19 detection, with concurrent training of laboratory personnel in the new testing protocol. The provision of COVID-19 test kits and training were made possible by PAHO Health Emergencies Department, who has worked in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness to enhance national capacity in response to the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
Virus detection requires high complexity tests that identify the specific genetic fingerprint of the virus. To support the implementation of the virus detection in Barbados, PAHO conducted training at the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory.
The two-day training which commenced on 10 February 2020, was facilitated by Virologist, Dr Lionel Gresh. Included in the training was a review of the current knowledge about this novel pathogen, as well as the hands-on implementation of its detection. Dr Gresh said that:
“A highly-motivated team that included five medical laboratory technologists and the laboratory Director participated in the training, and as a result, Barbados now has the capacity of testing any case that might fit the current testing criteria for COVID-19”.
Mrs Songee Beckles, Director of the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory (third from left) said:
“Training went very well. The staff of the molecular department of the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory are excited and confident in performing the new test for novel Coronavirus 2019.”
She noted that they were pleased as the test can be used by the Ministry of Health and Wellness in the National Coronavirus Response to screen for and confirm the virus if suspected cases appear in Barbados.
In his remarks on the training, Dr Yitades Gebre, newly appointed PAHO/WHO Representative to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean countries (PWR-ECC), emphasized that:
"In the management of the new COVID-19 in the Caribbean , timely and accurate laboratory testing of specimens from cases under investigation is urgently needed."