Thu | Feb 25, 2021

Slow out the blocks - Gov’t fast-tracks accreditation as some private labs yet to start COVID antigen testing

Published:Friday | January 22, 2021 | 12:14 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Dr Shanice Mullings (left) prepares to swab the nostrils of eight-year-old Actavia Harging who was scared of submitting to the coronavirus test in Central Village, St Catherine, on January 13. The Ministry of Health has fanned out with mobile testing sites
Dr Shanice Mullings (left) prepares to swab the nostrils of eight-year-old Actavia Harging who was scared of submitting to the coronavirus test in Central Village, St Catherine, on January 13. The Ministry of Health has fanned out with mobile testing sites across Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine in recent weeks.

The Holness administration is seeking to expedite accreditation of coronavirus testing sites amid the mushrooming of informal operators and the slow start by approved private labs.

At least four of the eight private laboratories that have been approved by the Government to conduct antigen testing for COVID-19 are yet to start, while one laboratory indicated that it is offering the test to only those preparing to travel.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness issued a list of approved laboratories on January 6, 2021, following increasing demand from some of Jamaica’s international partners that travellers provide a negative COVID-19 result on entry.

Based on checks by The Gleaner on Thursday, front-office staff at Andrews Memorial Hospital Lab, Central Medical Lab, and SureTime Emergency Medical Services are not offering the services currently. Meanwhile, Technological Solutions Limited said it was only offering the gold-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test now.

Winchester Medical Laboratory indicated that only those who are preparing to travel are being accommodated at this time.

Limited access to private laboratories has fuelled the growth of unregistered and unaccredited sites in the country. Following an expose by The Sunday Gleaner over the last two weeks, several ministries have joined forces to help increase the availability of accredited laboratories.

Jamaica, as at Wednesday, recorded 14,550 coronavirus cases and 331 deaths.

The Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation (JANAAC) has launched a pre-accreditation programme aimed at fast-tracking the approval of entities desirous of offering COVID-19 tests. Chief executive officer of JANAAC, Sharonmae Shirley, said the accreditation service will be fully subsidised by the Government although applicants will have to pay external fees.

“We are targeting laboratories, we are targeting also point-of-care testing facilities,” said Shirley, referencing doctor’s offices and pharmacies as among the places that may enlist in the free accreditation programme.

The CEO said that while the standards for accreditation are generally comprehensive, a tiered process has been established to fast-track approvals. Entities will need to meet 12 minimum requirements. These standards are primarily focused on areas such as staff competence, facility standards, and whether they have the requisite equipment and reporting mechanisms.

“We are opening this up for anyone who has a business interest,” Shirley said.

JANAAC sought to allay concerns about the rigorousness of its pre-approval process by saying that quality assurance was sufficient to guarantee public confidence.

Interested individuals can visit the JANAAC website (www.janaac.gov.jm) for the application form.

Shirley disclosed that within seven days of submitting an application, an initial assessment would be conducted.

“Now, the ball would be in your court,” she said.

Shirley said that the approved labs listed by the health ministry are not all currently accredited. However, they will be allowed to operate based on initial approval.

CEO of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Greta Bogues, said that approximately 60,000 persons are in need of testing every month. Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Audley Shaw said the recent requirements imposed by major tourism markets for their citizens to provide a recent PCR test result in order to return home has placed Jamaica and other countries in a disadvantageous position.

“My ministry stands ready to offer its support, recognising that any lapse in our support systems cannot be good for our tourism product, the economy, or the public which seeks to obtain these services,” Shaw said.