Fear delaying COVID-19 tests, says national epidemiologist

Fear delaying COVID-19 tests, says national epidemiologist

Friday, April 03, 2020

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KINGSTON, Jamaica— Jamaica may have to start relying on support from private health professionals volunteering to assist with the testing of suspect coronavirus (COVID-19) cases to increase the coverage.

The likelihood was noticeable yesterday, as the select committee of the House of Representatives, which is giving oversight to the Government's efforts to contain the widening COVID-19 pandemic within the country, met at Gordon House.

Principal Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health and National Epidemiologist, Dr Karen Webster Kerr told the meeting that country has the capacity to meet the required number of tests, which moved up from 90 per day to 180 per day recently with the acquiring of an automated extractor.

She also noted that the staff of the National Influenza Centre (NIC) has begun to work seven days per week and with the assistance of the Forensic Lab and the National Public Health Lab joining in another 2-3 weeks, the capacity is there to increase the demand for more testing.

“So the capacity is there, but we are not getting the amount of samples. If all the samples come in we can manage the targeted samples, but people are fearing taking the samples,” she said.

She said that fear of the testing, among both the healthcare workers as well as the suspect cases who need testing, as well as the stigma which is attached to having the disease or being associated with persons who are being tested is a major obstacle.

She said that the public health system did not meet this challenge when it dealt with testing for influenza which, according to her, is very similar to the test for COVID-19.

“We understand the fear, but we have to overcome the fear,” she said, as she responded to clarifications of her remarks sought by Opposition members of the committee.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, attributed the current fear of testing for COVID-19 to the result of international coverage of the pandemic.

“It is important for us to recognise that the disease is like any other ailment. It can be overcome and persons can resume normal life, as is the case with the two persons that we have released to resume their normal life,” Dr Tufton said.

The NIC is the Government lab for testing for viruses including the COVID-19 virus. Jamaica is among the first countries in the region to develop the capacity to do these tests.

Balford Henry

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