Comprehensive National Public Health Laboratory On Its Way

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Minister of Health, Donville Inniss (FP)

There are firm plans afoot to amalgamate three local laboratories – the Public Health Laboratory, the Ladymeade Reference Unit Laboratory, and the Leptospira Laboratory. This is aimed at creating a comprehensive facility to support the Tuberculosis (TB) programme and other specialty diagnostic services.

Word of this development came from Health Minister, Donville Inniss, yesterday, during an address to mark World Tuberculosis Day.?? He told health care workers, taking part in a training workshop held at the Accra Beach Resort, that the project would be done in partnership with the United States Government, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) II Programme.????

"Worldwide, many efforts have been implemented to prevent and control tuberculosis, as this condition is among one of the major public health concerns. The Caribbean region, like the rest of the world, has experienced a resurgence of TB, especially, with respect to HIV, as a co-infection. There is always the likelihood that individuals with compromised immune systems may become more susceptible to chronic infections such as tuberculosis," Minister Inniss explained.

Locally, in 2010, there were six new reported cases of TB, with five confirmed and one identified clinical case. Of these new cases, three were male and three female, and two of these were as a result of TB/HIV co-infection. There have, however, been no deaths as a result of the disease.

While recognising the outstanding work of the Public Health Laboratory at the Winston Scott Polyclinic and the Ladymeade Reference Unit Laboratory, fast being recognised as a centre of excellence for the diagnosis of TB, the Health Minister revealed that staff was in the process of validating diagnostic molecular technology to allow for the rapid identification of the causative agent of TB.?? This is being done with a view to reducing the identification time from 90 days to two days.

Making it clear that TB could be cured and controlled; and with concerted effort and adequate resources, often eliminated, the Minister highlighted the importance of surveillance, education and treatment.

"The STOP TB Strategy proposed by the World Health Organization focuses on reducing the global impact of TB by 2015, in line with the Millennium Development Goals and the STOP TB Partnership Targets. Directly Observed Therapy Short-course (DOTS) Expansion and Enhancement is identified as one such intervention which is the first component of the STOP TB Strategy. To date, Barbados has implemented the Modified DOTS Programme which is aimed at supporting the persons affected in adhering to the prescribed treatment regimen.

"This programme embodies elements of the strategy which seeks to empower persons with TB to be involved in their care. Client involvement provides the basis for identification of support systems and mechanisms which should strengthen adherence to prevention strategies and treatment modalities," he said.

TB Control Officer, Dr. R. Manohar Singh, explained that there is no current travel advisory restricting persons with TB from visiting Barbados.?? "But, if anyone displays symptoms, port health nurses are immediately contacted by Immigration.?? They will refer the case to the port health doctor, who will discuss with the hospital and if it is necessary, we will follow it up.?? If they are indeed symptoms, we will isolate them and provide the requisite treatment," he noted.

According to the World Health Organization, TB is an infectious bacterial disease caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis, which most commonly affects the lungs. It is transmitted via droplets from the throat and lungs of people with the active respiratory disease. In healthy people, infection often causes no symptoms, since the person’s immune system acts to ward off the bacteria.

The symptoms of active TB of the lungs are coughing, sometimes with sputum or blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. Tuberculosis is treatable with a six-month course of antibiotics.

lbayley@barbados.gov.bb

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