Sat | Apr 4, 2020

PAHO prepares countries for lab diagnosis of COVID-19

Published:Wednesday | February 19, 2020 | 12:05 AM

Efforts to ensure that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are prepared to carry out laboratory diagnosis of new coronavirus (COVID-19) have continued with a training in Mexico City, held by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Mexican Ministry of Health’s Institute of Epidemiological Diagnosis and Reference (InDRE).

The training, which was carried out from February 12-13, was attended by virologists from six Central American countries (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua), as well as from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

“During this workshop, countries from the region will be supported by Mexico with the transfer of cutting-edge molecular technology for laboratory diagnosis of the new coronavirus.”

The two-day workshop ‘Laboratory diagnosis and detection of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2’ was developed in line with PAHO/WHO recommendations to ensure the timely identification and response to the disease in the event of a suspected case in the region.

During the training, which was held at the InDRE National Influenza Center (NIC) and led by PAHO experts, participants were trained in the main tests and protocols to detect and diagnose COVID-19 utilising molecular technology. The training was also attended by virologists from public health laboratories in Baja, California, Jalisco and Quintana Roo in order to increase and expand Mexico’s capacity to respond.

Participants were also provided with the diagnostic materials required to test for the disease, including primers, probes and positive controls.

“Preparing laboratories to perform early diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 in a safe environment is essential to ensuring that countries can respond quickly and effectively,” said Cristian Morales, PAHO/WHO Representative in Mexico. “This joint training of nine countries is a concrete expression of the global call made by the WHO Director-General and is testament to the spirit of solidarity in our region, which has come together during this public health emergency of international concern to protect populations against a common threat,” he added.

Last week, PAHO led training in Brazil, in collaboration with Fiocruz and the Ministry of Health, for nine countries in South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay), as well as in Venezuela.

Training has also been held in the Caribbean, including in Suriname, Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica and Dominica. This will continue in the subregion next week with laboratory training in Bahamas and Guyana. The Caribbean Public Health Agency has also informed that its laboratory is ready to respond to the new coronavirus, and the Institut Pasteur of French Guiana is also operational for supporting surveillance in French territories of the Caribbean.

The training held in Mexico is the latest in a series of sessions that will ensure that 29 laboratories are ready to detect COVID-19 in the region by February 21, 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 and PAHO for testing for SARS-CoV-2 can be rapidly implemented using existing molecular detection platforms for influenza and other respiratory viruses.