Barbados will soon have the capacity to do its own testing for the novel coronavirus at the Best-dos Santos Laboratory at Enmore. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is providing the testing kits and the technical services of a virologist.
This was disclosed by Minister of Health and Wellness, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic, on Sunday at the end of a training and sensitization session for stakeholders at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
He noted: “We have a very state-of-the-art public health laboratory that has the capacity to do testing once we have the kits. We made arrangements with PAHO, so the kits are expected to arrive in Barbados this week along with a virologist from PAHO, who will then come and do some work with our people at the lab. Barbados would then have the capacity to do testing for the novel coronavirus and that would give us the opportunity to be able to detect persons or confirm cases quickly enough for us to be able to respond. That is critical to what we are doing.”
The Minister of Health and Wellness informed that so far Barbados has had no suspected cases.
“The only persons we have had under quarantine are persons who would have travelled to regions that we consider to be at some sort of risk and they had no symptoms, but we have been monitoring them. Some of those persons have already departed our shores and we still have some that we are monitoring at the moment at home, but no symptoms have been shown by anyone, so we do not have anybody under mandatory quarantine.”
Also speaking at the stakeholders meeting was Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kenneth George, who stated that the Ministry of Health and Wellness had “invested a lot” in terms of ensuring that Barbados was fully prepared to deal with the public health challenge.
He said that Sunday’s meeting climaxed three days of sensitization training conducted by the Medical Officers of Health in the Ministry for public officers as well as other stakeholder groups.
More than 500 people attended the sessions, including public and private clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers, stakeholder groups, such as the Royal Barbados Police Force; the Immigration and Customs Departments; the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners and the trade union movement, as well as members of the general public.
Similar training is ongoing at the Grantley Adams International Airport and the Bridgetown Port specifically geared to the frontline workers, who are the first points of contact with visitors to the island. These include port health nurses, environmental health officers, Customs and Immigration officers, concierges and red caps.
Dr. George said the Ministry was doing everything possible to keep abreast of the information, and to share what it knew with all stakeholders.
Noting that this new strain of coronavirus only came to the attention of the worldwide medical community about nine weeks ago, he said the situation at the moment was that “we know so much, but yet so little”.
What was known, he said, was that the respiratory infection was highly contagious and even though Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean were considered to be at low risk, the Ministry recognized the importance of being prepared, and had therefore adopted a four-pronged approach.
He outlined these steps as beefed-up surveillance at the ports of entry, the establishment of a quarantine centre for persons who arrive from high-risk areas and are asymptomatic, an Isolation Centre to treat anyone who arrived with symptoms, and an enhanced public education programme.
In respect of the Isolation Centre, which has a capacity of six persons, Dr. George disclosed that other accommodation had been identified in case the numbers requiring isolation exceeded six.
According to the Chief Medical Officer, the majority of cases of novel coronavirus are still occurring in the epicenter of Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China, with about 20 per cent recorded in other areas of that country, and two to three percent outside of China. He said about 25 countries had now reported cases.