By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A GLOBAL shortage of COVID-19 testing reagents has limited health officials’ capacity to conduct wider testing in the country, Health Minister Renward Wells said yesterday.
This is just one of the many reasons why there has not been wider testing, he said.
“We have at PMH (Princess Margaret Hospital) now with the GeneXpert machine that gets results in about 45 minutes. The machines were donated by PAHO,” he said.
“We have one at PMH and one by South Beach (Clinic) and one in Grand Bahama and those are on stream. Unfortunately, because of the global pandemic, there is a shortage for the cartridges. We only got about 2,000 of those cartridges and as a result of that, we have to use it sparingly or rather we have to use it wisely.”
He added: “I think the people ought to also note that when you’re testing for COVID, it’s not just the swabs, you need the re-agents. There’s a global shortage on reagents because every country is increasing their testing and so it puts a strain on the global supply.
“So, The Bahamas is in there, we’re fighting to ensure that we get our requisite share of the reagents so we can continue to test but all of these are a part of the overall testing programme and some of the issues as to why you may not see as much testing taking place.”
His comments come amid calls for more COVID-19 testing in the community.
On Monday, health officials recorded 50 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, pushing the nation’s count to 2217 up to that point. One additional death was also reported late Monday after a 77-year-old New Providence man died.
As of Monday, 11,165 COVID-19 tests had been completed since the start of the pandemic. Yesterday, Mr Wells said officials had brought in an RNA extractor machine to help produce a quicker turnaround time for COVID-19 test results. The machine, he added, is currently in the process of being certified.
“We brought in a RNA, an extractor machine that was able to take out some of the manual work. The issue that we had in bringing in the RNA extractor machine is that it needed to have been certified by the company that produces the machine,” he continued.
“So, we’re in the process of certifying that so we can continue to increase the level of work that we’re getting from the national reference lab but I can tell you the national reference lab, Dr Martin and her crew and the volunteers have been doing a yeoman’s task – an exceptional job in being able to get out those results.”
Asked yesterday if officials were concerned about inefficiencies with the GeneXpert machine given its short turn around for COVID test results, the minister replied: “The GeneXpert machine is an excellent machine and we were happy that PAHO donated those three machines to us. It gives us an excellent opportunity to do the rapid testing in certain circumstances especially for individuals that we want to get the results back very quickly and obviously we are looking at our healthcare workers and those who are on the frontlines.
“…(The machines) a part of our overall capacity. It is just getting more re-agents so we can do more testing and ensuring that the machines are calibrated, the RNA extractor machines so that some of the work does not have to be done manually so it gives us an opportunity to do more of the tests in a shorter time frame.”
In the meantime, Mr Wells said health officials will be keeping in close contact with government agencies to ensure that all of the proper health protocols are being followed. This comes after the Ministry of Health revealed that uniform branches led the way in terms of contacts’ workplace exposure by occupation, followed by health workers and those in the category of trade, utility and construction.
He said: “You would look at an essential service like (the) police, for instance, you would find that police officers, they use a particular firearm. They turn that firearm in and then another police officer who may come on shift and take that firearm and so we need to look at all those practices that we may have not taken into consideration to ensure that frequently touched items are always sanitised.
“When they’re moving from one individual to the next that frequently touched surfaces are always sanitised to common areas that we use in our ministries that we’re keeping them constantly sanitised and that folks are doing what they’re supposed to be doing - wearing their masks, keeping their social distance and sanitising on a consistent basis.
“So, I believe that once we do those things, we’ll be able to manage the spread of COVID much better than we have in the initial phases of this second wave.”