GEORGETOWN, Guyana, April 11, 2020 (CMC) – The Ministry of Public Health is exploring the use of rapid-testing, as well as medications for COIVD-19 patients, following advice from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Top health officials, here, held discussions with technical experts from PAHO, along with representatives of private hospitals, the Medical Council, the private sector and members of the media, during a virtual meeting, on Thursday.
Among the experts were: Dr. Lionel Gresh, a virologist, who was in Guyana, recently, to help build capacity to test for COVID-19; as well as 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.
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, regarding their use in the treatment of COVID-19.
PAHO recommended that health officials not use the drugs, just yet.
“As of today (Thursday), 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,” Dr. Aldighieri said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gresh said that Guyana’s testing capacity can be maximized, since 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 can do, at least 96 tests (two shifts) a day, so it is for us to ramp that up,” Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, agreed.
Lawrence disclosed that the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) 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 utilize it, should the need arise,” she said.
Meanwhile, PAHO/WHO country representative, Dr. William Adu-Krow, who leads the technical support mechanism to the Public Health Ministry, said the meeting shed light on how the ministry can form 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, and this is very important,” he explained.
Additionally, Dr. Adu-Krow stated that another way Guyana can prioritize and maximize its testing capacity, is by addressing the human resource gap.
Recently, Minister Lawrence announced that consideration was being given to bringing private health facilities onboard, to conduct testing for COVID-19.
She noted the possibility of confirmed cases surging to an initial estimation of 1,400, adding that with more effort, the number could remain below 100.
Guyana has recorded 40 cases of COVID-19.