Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Christopher Tufton said Government yesterday commissioned into service a newly acquired machine, which can test a total 1,140 samples daily to determine if persons have the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
That should result in a significant increase in the number of samples tested.
Up to yesterday, Jamaica spent more than a month testing a total 1,936 samples, including the 233 that have tested positive for the virus. The first positive test result was announced on March 10.
Dr. Tufton, in the House of Representatives late last evening, said a number of factors – including a shortage of personnel – resulted in the relatively low number of samples tested so far.
“We are now in a stage where we all agree – technocrats and others – that we need to expand testing, and we are doing just that,” he said.
Dr. Tufton noted that the newly acquired machine, when compared to the others previously used, is far less reliant on human involvement in the testing process.
He explained: “While this House was in session, the National Public Health Lab commissioned a new piece of equipment, which will see substantial increase in the capacity to test once we have the samples.
“In fact, that [newly acquired] machine will do 380 tests per eight-hour shift, and they can run for three shifts in a 24-hour day. In fact, it is highly automated. You just put the samples in, press a button to start it off, and it does the test. We are moving now from the 180 or just over 200 capacity that was possible for a two-shift cycle at the National Influenza facility to now a facility supporting that, that could do over 1000 tests per day,” he further said.
While noting that various other improvements are being made, the health minister admitted that a current challenge is to collect samples for the new machine to test.
“What we need to do now is to collect samples [for testing], and that’s why we have the five mobile units that are going out, all the health centres, and of course the hospitals. So, the health centres are in a position to collect samples based on persons who show up with upper respiratory ailments or Influenza-like symptoms,” Dr. Tufton explained.
He further told The House that enough test kits are available, adding that the authorities continuously order more to replenish stock.
The minister, in the meantime, said, although the testing of samples previously was slow, he is comfortable with the quality of the testing methodology.
“I think the information we have as it relates to test results are a good representation of the extent of the virus in the population,” he further told parliament.
By Horace Mills, Journalist
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