Health Ministry exploring expanded testing, treatment capacity for COVID-19

−Consultants shed light on the use of Rapid Tests

DPI, Guyana, Friday, April 10, 2020

The Ministry of Public Health is exploring the use of Rapid Testing as well as the use of medications for COIVD-19 patients.

This followed advice from PAHO during a virtual meeting on April 9, between Technical Experts from PAHO in Washington DC and top health officials here. Other participants included representatives of private hospitals, the Medical Council, the private sector and members of the media.

The technical experts included Dr. Lionel Gresh, a virologist who was in Guyana recently to help build capacity to test for COVID-19. Also, Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri and Dr. Ludovic Reveiz who focused on the treatment for symptoms of COVID-19 with specific medications.

The use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine was discussed and it was recommended by PAHO/WHO that this measure not be adopted just yet since scientists are studying both drugs for the treatment of the virus.  Instead, health officials should continue to treat patients symptomatically.

Dr. Aldighieri stated that “As of today (April 9), there is a lack of quality evidence to demonstrate chloroquine and/or hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness in the treatment of COVID-19. Evidence is recently emerging via small studies with sub-optimum methodologies that are conflicting.”

Chloroquine is an anti-malarial drug useful in treating several forms of malaria which has spread outside of the intestines. It suppresses malaria infection, stops acute attacks, and lengthens the time between treatment and relapse. It is similar to hydroxychloroquine. Both drugs are under investigation and further studies for the treatment of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gresh posited that Guyana’s testing capacity can be maximised as the National Public Health Reference Laboratory can process 48 COVID-19 samples on an eight-hour shift.

“We can expand sample collection… the machine is not being fully used… We need to inform our regional hospitals not just GPHC of taking off the samples earlier from persons so that we can begin testing. We can do at least 96 tests (two shifts) a day so it is for us to ramp that up,” Minister Lawrence agreed.

She reminded that the Guyana Livestock Development Authority also has a testing machine and staff of the agency are already trained to test for COVID-19.  “I have already spoken to the Minister of Agriculture with regards to that PCR machine at GLDA in terms of how we can utilise it should the need arise.”

Meanwhile, PAHO/WHO country representative, Dr. Adu-Krow, who leads the technical support mechanism to the Public Health Ministry said the meeting shed light on how the ministry can form their views on the rapid test and why the current molecular testing method is being used.

“From the presentations and the discussions, it’s quite clear that PCR testing can pick up the virus from two days before symptom onsets to more than seven days… It can also detect infection in persons who are asymptomatic (not showing any symptoms) and this is very important,” he explained.

Added to this, Dr. Adu-Krow stated that another way Guyana can prioritise and maximise its testing capacity is by addressing the human resource gap. Recently, the Public Health Minister had announced that they are considering bringing private health facilities onboard to conduct testing for COVID-19.

Minister Lawrence noted the possibility of confirmed cases surging to an initial estimation of 1400.

However, with more efforts put in place, the number can even be below 100, she said.