By Gemma Handy
Efforts to step up the country’s fight against the coronavirus are hampered by understaffing and shortages of a key substance needed to perform Covid-19 testing.
Health chiefs admitted on Tuesday that although the long-awaited Margetson Ward at the former Holberton Hospital is ready for use as a quarantine and isolation unit, there was a lack of workers to occupy it.
“We’re pretty much at the point where we could move in,” Mount St John’s Medical Center medical director Albert Duncan said at a press conference.
âThe problem right now is just trying to get the staff together, because the staff has to be split between Mount St John’s and Holberton. ”
Authorities are working to provide the long-delayed facility with the necessary manpower, he said.
Duncan added that he expected the revamped service to be up and running by Monday.
It cannot happen soon enough for those who fear that the nation is woefully ill-prepared to face its greatest crisis in modern history.
And this week, anxiety increased further as the virus took its first local casualties – two more names added to the global death toll that now exceeds 87,000.
Until today, samples taken from people suspected of having contracted the disease were still flown to Trinidad for testing.
The government has been criticized for not launching local tests earlier, including from opposition politicians.
“The Minister of Health and the chief medical officer seem to contradict each other on the availability of the machines and the testing capacity,” UPP chief Jamale Pringle said on Tuesday. âThe government must tell the people exactly what we have, and when and from whom it was acquired. ”
The delays in testing capacity appear to be due to a shortage of reagents – substances used to extract genetic material from the virus so that it can be studied more easily.
It is an image reflected across the world, from Europe to the United States and the Middle East. Many countries have reported difficulties in acquiring enough test kits and accompanying materials to cope with the growing number of infections.
Vital equipment is on the island, however – in the form of two PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machines that check for the presence of Covid-19 in swabs taken from patients.
âAnd we started the installation process,â said Chief Medical Officer Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas.
Distance training for local staff will follow.
âWe have some of the reagents,â continued the CMO. “We hope that once the rest of the reagents arrive here later in the week, we can start testing very soon.”
However, a Caricom statement sent on Wednesday spoke of a shortage of reagents in the region.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) – responsible for carrying out testing for suspected cases of the virus in several Caricom member states – is experiencing delays in receiving the chemicals, she said. The availability of test kits is also a challenge.
“CARPHA assured the ministers of health of the Caribbean Community that it is working with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to arrange for the purchase of the necessary materials and equipment to avoid any shortages. due to the delay and cancellation of orders placed repeatedly. since January, âadded the Caricom press release.