Private labs courted as COVID backlog deadline missed

Fighting to regain its footing from a backlog of thousands of COVID-19 test samples, the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) says it is courting five private laboratories to help slash delays in garnering coronavirus results.

The public-private partnership talks come amid the ministry’s admission that it will miss its July 31 deadline to clear the backlog of 10,000 test samples. That number has been reduced to just over 3,000 up to Thursday evening.

“Over the next two weeks, we will clear the backlog. However, current samples will now be tested within the usual 24-48 hours while the backlog testing continues,” Dr Michelle Hamilton, director of services at the National Public Health Laboratory, said.

Speaking at an MOHW digital press briefing on Thursday, Hamilton said that the ministry was in dialogue with the labs about a comprehensive assessment protocol – “from sampling to the testing of humans and the environment”.

The announcement came as Jamaica has increased demand for testing from persons who wish to travel for business or pleasure overseas and students who need to return to school as well as others who require clearance for employment abroad.

Hamilton said that negotiations were far advanced with at least one of the five labs to commence testing as early as next week.

The island recorded six new positive coronavirus cases on Thursday, with more than 20,730 people self-quarantined at home. There are 102 people isolated in government facilities.

RESISTANCE TO RAPID TESTS

With a recovery rate of 83.5 per cent, the health authorities are insistent against accepting any recommendations to introduce the rapid antigen tests for use in the country even with the unavailability of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

“PCR testing is the test that we are utilising to diagnose COVID infection,” Hamilton said, adding that she understood the concerns about reagent availability.

Reagents are substances used in chemical analysis.

“That has been taken into consideration in our approach. However, we have diversified the platforms that we are utilising to test for COVID, and the partners that we are using are using a variety of platforms,” Hamilton said.

That means that reagent kits will be more easily accessible.

In the meantime, the country’s health sector is being bolstered by the provision of 120 openings for medical doctors, who, up to three weeks ago, were being encouraged to find employment in other CARICOM countries owing to the absence of jobs here.

In addition, a number of public-health inspectors are to be added to what Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has described as a larger workforce.


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