Moves by the Ministry of Health to exclusively rely on the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Laboratory in Trinidad to test for the Chikungunya virus have been chalked up to efforts by Guyana to embrace regionalism. This deduction was made by Minister of Health, Dr Bheri Ramsaran, who during an interview disclosed that “we are happy that our CARPHA in Trinidad is doing what it is intended to do. We speak about regionalism and this is where regionalism is in action.”
According to the Health Minister CARPHA was created to be a public health laboratory for the Region and it is therefore tasked with providing quality service to the territories of the Caribbean.
Moreover, CARPHA is recognised as the single regional public health agency for the Caribbean. It was legally established in July 2011 by an Inter-Governmental Agreement signed by Caribbean Community Member States. It however became officially operational in January of last year.
The Agency is one designed to rationalise public health arrangements in the Region by combining the functions of five Caribbean Institutions into a single agency. These institutions are: the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute (CEHI), the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC), the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institution (CFNI), the Caribbean Health Research Council (CHRC) and the Caribbean Regional Drug Testing Laboratory (CRDTL). “CARPHA brings these Institutes together as one strong force under a public health umbrella under which issues requiring a regional response can be addressed,” a statement on the CARPHA website outlines. Therefore among the issues that CARPHA is qualified to examine are: emergency response to disasters (hurricanes, earthquake, flooding); the surveillance and management of non-communicable diseases (NDCs) that have reached epidemic proportions such as obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes; the surveillance and management of communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS, re-emerging diseases like tuberculosis in association with HIV/AIDS, and new communicable diseases that are now endemic in the Region. CARPHA can also cater to surveillance and prevention of injuries, violence and job related illness and contribute to global health agreements and compliance with international health regulations.
In fact CARPHA, which utilises a people-centred and evidence-based approach, is described as “the Caribbean Region’s collective response to strengthening and re-orienting our health system approach so that we are equipped to address the changing of public health challenges.”
But despite the needed services being offered by CARPHA are readily accessed by Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean, Minister Ramsaran insisted that “this does not say that we (Guyana) will not pursue up-scaling of our own laboratory.”
Guyana’s National Reference Laboratory officially opened its doors in 2008 with a mission to improve Guyana’s capacity in the area of clinical laboratory testing and specialised reference testing. And according to Minister Ramsaran although the laboratory, situated at the junction of New Market and Thomas Streets, Georgetown, has in place equipment to do a variety of laboratory tests, including testing for the Chikungunya virus, the Ministry is yet to train personnel to utilise the equipment.
Guyana and the other Caribbean territories that have been hit by the Chikungunya since its detection in these parts towards the end of last year have been relying on CARPHA to validate suspected cases. According to Minister Ramsaran of the close to 200 samples Guyana sent to CARPHA for testing a mere 19 have thus far returned as confirmed cases of Chikungunya. The confirmed cases of the mosquito borne virus were found mainly in sections of East Berbice, according to the Health Minister.
The Health Minister disclosed that while Guyana has personnel to utilise rapid test kits, testing for things such as the Chikungunya virus require laboratory based methods.
It is for this reason, he said, that moves have already been engaged to acquire the necessary training for local personnel to take advantage of the equipment housed at the National Reference Laboratory.
Minister Ramsaran disclosed that the Health Ministry is poised to take advantage of an upcoming Pan American Health Organisation/Centres for Disease Control (PAHO/CDC) collaboration, which is expected to see at least one local health worker travelling to Atlanta, Georgia in the United States for training shortly. “We had deliberately, knowing that training was coming up, asked the authorities (PAHO and CDC) to extend that person’s stay to possibly get training to test for Chikungunya…so we are awaiting a reply; that will be our best option,” intimated the Health Minister.
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