PAHO prepares Caribbean countries for laboratory diagnosis of new coronavirus

PAHO prepares Caribbean countries for laboratory diagnosis of new coronavirus

Friday, February 14, 2020

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WASHINGTON, DC, United States (CMC) — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says it is preparing eight Caribbean countries for laboratory diagnosis of new coronavirus (COVID-19).

On Wednesday, PAHO said that virology experts from its Washington-based headquarters have travelled to the Caribbean to ensure that laboratory specialists are trained and equipped to identify and respond to potentially imported cases of the novel coronavirus.

Training in the Caribbean began in Suriname, followed by Barbados and Haiti, and will continue later this week in Jamaica, Belize and Dominica, PAHO said.

Next week, PAHO said experts will travel to The Bahamas and Guyana to complete this initiative in the sub-region.

In addition to this, on February 10, PAHO said the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad and Tobago, informed that its laboratory is ready to respond to the new coronavirus.

“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” said Yitades Gebre, PAHO's representative for Barbados and Eastern Caribbean countries. “Providing countries with the reagents and knowledge needed to perform early diagnosis is key for outbreak response and protecting our populations.”

During the training, PAHO said laboratories, which include both national influenza centres and flu national labs, are provided with the diagnostic materials required to test for COVID-19.

This includes primers, probes and positive controls.

According to PAHO, participants are then trained in the main tests, adding that protocols are available to carry out a practical exercise of molecular detection.

PAHO 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 February 21, 2020, with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, serving as the regional reference laboratory.

The laboratories selected for training are those that already provide testing for influenza, PAHO said.

It said that this means that, instead of developing a laboratory from scratch, the protocol, recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and PAHO for testing for COVID-19, can simply 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.”

As well as laboratories in the Caribbean, PAHO said it has also led training in Brazil, in collaboration with Fiocruz and the Ministry of Health, for nine countries in South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay), as well as in Venezuela.

This week, PAHO said training will also be hosted by the Ministry of Health of Mexico for six countries in Central America (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua), as well as in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

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