Negotiations underway for a private lab to begin COVID testing

August 01, 2020
Director of Services at the National Public Health Laboratory, Dr. Michelle Hamilton

Director of Services at the National Public Health Laboratory, Dr. Michelle Hamilton, says negotiations are advanced with one private laboratory to begin coronavirus (COVID-19) tests as early as next week.

Dr. Hamilton, who was speaking at the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ weekly virtual COVID Conversations press briefing on Thursday, July 30, said that discussions are also underway with five other facilities as the demand for testing continues to grow.

“We are aware that there is increased demand for tests from persons, who would like to travel for business, for pleasure, for persons who need to go back to school, and some who need a COVID test for employment. We are pleased to announce in this regard that we are in advanced negotiations with one private laboratory, who we expect to be able to start testing as early as next week and certainly by the week of August 9,” she said.

Dr. Hamilton said “there will be more to come in terms of how all the other laboratories that we are dealing with will fit into our comprehensive picture. But in the immediate future, we are dealing with the needs of those who require a COVID test to carry out their activities.”

Health Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, said that while the Ministry is working to expand the country’s capacity for testing, he has received, in recent weeks, a number of calls regarding COVID test for students and persons, who want to travel and are willing to pay for the test. “It is therefore important that this service is available,” he noted.

Dr. Hamilton pointed out further that not all public hospitals and laboratories in the island will be able to conduct COVID testing because the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that is being utilised in Jamaica requires “sophisticated equipment and a fairly complex laboratory”.

She said that most of the laboratories and hospitals do not have the facility or equipment to carry out PCR testing.

“We do understand the need for private patients to be able to have COVID tests on demand and we do understand the pressures on the public system to provide all the tests that are required and that is why we are engaging now, in a programme of public-private partnership,” she noted.

There will be an increasing number of labs offering COVID testing so that private patients and public patients should have their needs met,” she added.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hamilton said that Jamaica has resumed testing incoming samples for COVID -19 since July 25, while at the same time, working to clear the backlog of 10,000 tests over the next two weeks. She said that the Ministry was not able to meet the July 31 deadline to clear the backlog due to the international demand for reagents.

“We have cleared well over half of the backlog but we have over 3000 samples still remaining. So our current approach is two-pronged – over the next two weeks we will complete the clearance of the backlog samples and we have started testing current incoming samples, so that samples, arriving from the 25th of July, will now be tested within our usual turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours,” she noted.

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