– Local testing likely by year end – Health Minister
By Sharmain Cornette
Yet another case of the H1N1 virus has been confirmed but Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, is adamant that the situation is under control.
Of 52 samples that were tested by the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) in Trinidad and Tobago, six have now been found to be positive H1N1 cases, the Minister disclosed yesterday. And the cases, he said, are all from the Georgetown area.
The recent case he said is a 17-year-old who is responding well to treatment. In fact the Minister noted that Guyana has been fortunate enough to only have mild to moderate cases.
He disclosed that the moderate type of severity were evident when an infected person had another illness, adding that those without co-morbidity had mild symptoms.
As a result of the six cases the Ministry has had to find and monitor more than 1,000 people who may have been in contact with the infected persons.
However, Dr Ramsammy revealed that his Ministry has been able to successfully contain the spread of the virus and will continue to monitor and test cases.
“We will continue to do it because it allows us to do the containment but it will eventually reach a stage in Guyana like it has reached in other countries where… we will need to just do permanent containment.”
According to the Minister, specific test for the virus is not being done in some countries as in the case of Guyana because the number of cases has become overwhelming. Moreover, the Minister related that the virus is being handled as a common flu case in those countries.
“When you see we start getting positive specimens from around the country then it will become a little unmanageable to do testing. So we have to keep on being vigilant.”
According to the Minister he is most impressed with the work being done by health workers with regards to the virus; as such he lauded the Ministry’s strategy to put measures in place even before there was any evidence of an invasion.
Opportunistic strategies, he said, have worked well for Guyana over the years even when there were flooding situations.
Accordingly, he emphasised that the Ministry will continue with its current strategy in order to be able to identify quickly when a case occurs so it can be contained.
“In spite of all that, it will reach a stage that it has reached in the US and many of the Caribbean countries, where it becomes part of the transmissible influenza illnesses and we will have to focus on being able to treat people.
“I believe we have not yet been challenged in terms of treating people in large numbers and hopefully that day will not come and we will be able to keep it to a manageable level,” said the Minister.
And though the cost of sending the samples overseas for testing is negligible, Minister Ramsammy has disclosed that the Ministry is working towards doing its own test at the National Public Health Reference Laboratory by year-end.
According to him, the Ministry has been targeting September to incorporate the added testing capability but noted that that deadline maybe too ambitious.
He said that currently, the DNA-PCR equipment that has already been procured is intended for dedicated testing thus is regarded as a ‘dedicated platform’.
The equipment can test for HPV, TB, and viral load for HIV.
But according to the Minister efforts are being made to procure an open platform to enable the laboratory to be able to do a variety of tests.
“I would say that we are targeting September but I think a more realistic date is around November. This will improve our capacity a lot, not only for this particular one (H1N1) but other emerging diseases.”
Minister Ramsammy said, too, that it is anticipated that by November/December vaccines for the virus will also be available.
He said that based on a release from the CDC and WHO, the initial vaccine which is expected to be limited, will target pregnant women first, followed by young children and the elderly.
At the moment, the Minister said that the Ministry is obligated to pay for the transport of samples from here to Trinidad.
But according to him it is not an automatic process, as airlines would not facilitate such a process unless certified technicians would have been responsible for the packaging of the samples.
“Unless you have that, the airlines can’t take them…these are little details that the public don’t know sometimes…every country must have certified International Air Transport Association (IATA) Technicians to pack these specimens. Guyana is fortunate that the Ministry has been able to get IATA Technicians,” Dr Ramsammy boasted.
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