Government will have to adjust the timelines for disseminating PCR test results for COVID-19 as it awaits the shipment of the automatic reagent extractor needed to speed up the laboratory testing process.
Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, in her address to the country on the eve of the start of the two-week national pause, asked Barbadians and visitors “to bear with us” as the testing would now be done using manual extraction of the RNA (ribonucleic acid) from test samples, which she labelled as a tedious process.
In a number of clinically important viruses, RNA carries what is referred to as viral genetic information. A reagent is a substance or compound that can facilitate a reaction, and is widely used in tests.
“Let me say to you that the automatic extractor makes life easy. We have enough manual reagents for manual extraction. But that is tiresome [and] time consuming now that I have seen what happens in the lab as well. It’s also tiring on the eyes. So it’s ‘gonna’ take a lot longer, even though we have reagents for manual extraction,” she explained.
Ms. Mottley disclosed that the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory ordered the reagents for automatic extraction from the manufacturers back in September 2020, when there were “more than tens of thousands in our supply”, but still had not received the shipment up to January 2021.
She blamed the delay on the disruption in the global supply chain, similar to what happened last year with personal protective equipment and ventilators.
Describing the situation as much like that of the “wild, wild, wild west”, she said the same circumstances were now being experienced with the automatic reagents and vaccines, as larger countries tried to secure them for their citizens.
“And this is one of the difficulties that a small country such as ours will have because we are very often price takers as well as now product takers because we don’t have the size to determine or influence the market.
“And I’ve told you that over and over, so that we’ve seen a disruption to global supply chains all over. And we are like every other country; we are the victims of that disruption, particularly as a small state. Large countries suffer from it too. And you’ll see in many of the large states that’s the reason why, at the level of states, countries are taking defensive action to protect their state, far less their country,” she stated.
The Prime Minister pointed out that Barbados had received some automatic reagents from Guyana, and expressed her gratitude to that country for its assistance.
She said the manual extraction only pertained to PCR tests and would not affect Operation Seek and Save, where rapid antigen tests would be utilised in communities, as officials seek to curb the spread of COVID-19.