Laboratory strengthening has been considered critical to the development of this island’s capacity to prepare for any pandemic outbreak.

This was a key point made by this island’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Joy St. John, and supported by Charg?? d’Affaires of the United States (US) Embassy, Dr. Brent Hardt.?? They were speaking recently at the launch of Barbados’?? Influenza Laboratory, at the Ladymeade Reference Unit in Jemmotts Lane.

Dr. St. John noted that health professionals had responded well in preparing and protecting Barbadians against Influenza A (H1N1), at the time of the declaration, but that?? the Ministry was, however, "unable to quickly confirm our cases, especially early in the pandemic".

She added: "While we received immense support for confirming our cases through the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre and the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), we were well aware that there was a need to have local capacity to test and confirm cases."

Lauding the opening of the new lab, the CMO said it represented "a culmination of a vision" and great effort by the Ministry of Health in partnership with the CDC, the Pan-American Health Organization and the Chronic Disease Research Centre of the University of the West Indies.

She concluded: "During any public health emergency, health officials must make urgent, often far reaching decisions in an atmosphere of considerable scientific uncertainty. However, with confirmed evidence through laboratory testing, we, as health officials can make informed real time decisions which will strengthen our management of this threat to Barbados."

Meanwhile,?? reflecting on statistics relating to Influenza A (H1N1) that saw 16,000 reported deaths worldwide, Dr. Hardt said these highlighted "the urgent need to put in place adequate epidemiologic monitoring tools that can provide timely and accurate data to support prevention, care and treatment of this pandemic."

The official acknowledged that the US government was pleased to work with its Barbadian counterpart to address this global challenge and disclosed that in the early stage and as a temporary measure, they had partnered with local health authorities "to ship the H1N1 reactive samples to the Influenza Branch at the Atlanta Georgia based CDC for confirmation".??

"But to provide a more effective and a longer term response that would build permanent in-country capacity in diagnosing this virus, at the end, the CDC office purchased equipment reagents and consumables and assisted with the set up of the current H1N1 laboratory," he announced.

The cost of the equipment and supplies was estimated at US $58,000 and the US representatives explained, "It represents just the first step in a broader relationship between the United States government, all the governments in the region and regional health partners, aimed at supporting the establishment of coordinated health support structures that will continue to build in-country capacity towards long-term sustainability and ownership of these enhanced facilities."??

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