PAHO prepares 8 Caribbean countries for laboratory diagnosis of new coronavirus

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Virology experts from the Pan American Health Organization have travelled to the Caribbean region to ensure that laboratory specialists are trained and equipped to identify and respond to potential imported cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

Training in the Caribbean began in Suriname, followed by Barbados and Haiti, and will continue later this week in Jamaica, Belize and Dominica. Next week, PAHO experts will travel to Bahamas and Guyana to complete this initiative in the sub-region. In addition to this, on 10 February the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad and Tobago informed that its laboratory is ready to respond to the new coronavirus.

“As one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, the Caribbean must prepare to detect and respond quickly to imported cases of COVID-19” said Yitades Gebre, PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and Eastern Caribbean Countries. “Providing countries with the reagents and knowledge needed to perform early diagnosis is key for outbreak response and protecting our populations.”

During the training, laboratories, which include both National Influenza Centers and Flu national labs, are provided with the diagnostic materials required to test for COVID-19. This includes primers, probes and positive controls. Participants are then trained in the main tests and protocols available and carry out a practical exercise of molecular detection.

Coronavirus preparation in Latin America and the Caribbean

The laboratory training currently underway in the Caribbean forms part of an overall initiative to ensure that 29 laboratories are ready to detect COVID-19 in the Region by 21 February 2020, with the US CDC in Atlanta serving as the regional reference laboratory.

The laboratories selected for training are those that already provide testing for influenza. This means that instead of developing a laboratory from scratch, the protocol recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and PAHO for testing for COVID-19 can simply be added to countries’ existing protocols for influenza testing.

“We know that a country’s health system is most likely to be the first point of entry for a suspected case of new coronavirus,” said Sylvain Aldighieri, Deputy Director of the Health Emergencies Department at PAHO. “The training being carried out by PAHO in influenza laboratories in the Region is the most effective way to equip countries with the ability to detect, monitor and respond to cases in a timely manner.”

Laboratory training in the Region

As well as laboratories in the Caribbean, PAHO has also led training in Brazil, in collaboration with Fiocruz and the Ministry of Health, for 9 countries in south America (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay), as well as in Venezuela.

This week, training will also be hosted by the Ministry of Health of Mexico for 6 countries in central America (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua), as well as in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

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