By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
AS The Bahamas’ tourism market reopens, the Pan American Health Organization is not recommending the use of antigen rapid test at our borders for detection of the deadly COVID-19 virus on our guests, nor does that organization recommend laboratory testing prior to travel and upon arrival.
During the weekly PAHO Webinar, designed to give regional updates on COVID-19, PAHO official Dr Sylvain Aldighier, said firstly the antigen tests should not stand alone.
“Regarding The Bahamas, you have to take into account, antigen based rapid test is to complement the PCR test, but is to remain the gold standard,” said Dr Aldighier. “It is mainly for use at primary health care levels. PAHO does not recommend the use of antigen detection tests in asymptomatic patients.
“So in fact it is not recommended for travellers who, by definition, should not be symptomatic. PAHO also does not recommend the use of laboratory testing as the main testing for entry before travel and after arrival into a country. It creates a false sense of screening. PAHO is recommending much more comprehensive health monitoring and information on the travellers as it relates to their non-essential travels.”
Dr Aldighier said in The Bahamas, the complement of antigen tests and PCR tests is better for detection of COVID-19 at primary healthcare levels and community levels in symptomatic patients.
Dr Jarbas Barbosa, Asst Director, PAHO, has commended The Bahamas for taking swift action in robust contract tracing to prevent a massive spread from recent spikes in COVID-19.
“In the Caribbean, thanks to effective disease monitoring, countries like The Bahamas took swift action, including robust contact tracing, to prevent the spikes reported in recent weeks from blossoming out-of-control,” Dr Barbosa said.
“Over the last week, there was an average of 150,000 daily cases of COVID-19 reported in the Americas. Since the start of the pandemic, almost 22 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in our region, and more than 660,000 have died as a result of the virus.”
The assistant director noted that while these figures point to a still-surging virus, the situation differs depending on where one looks within the region. The Americas are not one uniform place, he said, so it’s worth digging a bit deeper to uncover major trends.
“In North America, COVID-19 cases are steadily climbing as most states in the US, parts of Canada and some states of Mexico, including the capital, experience spikes in cases,” he said continuing. “In fact, the US continues to report record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases and we expect it will soon surpass 10 million COVID-19 infections.
“However, as we look further south, some countries and regions are doing better than others. And with the exception of Belize, Central American countries are also seeing a steady decrease in COVID-19 cases due to ongoing control measures. In South America, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay have kept transmission under control and flattened their epidemic curves.”
Dr Barbosa highlighted the successful practice of COVID-19 emergency medical teams in certain countries.
“Most countries across our region formed emergency medical teams to provide surge capacity when needed,” he said. “We saw this in Uruguay and Peru, where internal teams were deployed to virus hot spots to care for patients and relieve the burden on local clinics and hospitals.
“In the Americas more than 165 emergency medical teams were deployed domestically by the countries, enabling health services to expand by almost 17,000 inpatient beds and 1,500 critical care beds, which have been crucial to saving lives in remote areas. These best practices show us that keeping the virus under control requires both constant commitment and proactive adjustments to ensure our national responses reflect changing trends.”
Regardless of the shifting dynamics in different parts of the region, Dr Barbosa said, the virus remains a threat and is still cutting too many lives short.