In a press release issued by the Government, it was pointed out that the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital is the only facility authorised and recognised by the Ministry of Health and Social Development to conduct PCR testing and antigen testing in the Virgin Islands presently.
The press release on July 15 quoted the Acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Ronald Georges, stating that “The Hospital has undergone validation exercises over a period of several months and the testing process has been developed and reviewed in conjunction with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and Public Health England (PHE).”
Dr. Georges further said that the hospital undergoes continuous proficiency testing through the America College of Pathologists, and reference samples are also sent to CARPHA and other reference laboratories for quality control.
The release also added that the Ministry continues to work with Public Health England laboratory and virology sections to analyse data and determine any revision of algorithms required as we deal with the current outbreak, and while a positive result may indicate presence of viral RNA or non-viable fragments, the interpretation relies on the lab values and the clinical and epidemiological information.
According to Dr. Vanterpool, while Medicure Lab was not named specifically in the press release in question, the major effect of the statements are to discredit Medicure’s efforts as that laboratory is the only one of the five private laboratories in BVI that have PCR testing available and to a lesser degree it also discredits the other labs which may be doing rapid antigen testing.
He added, “Extended availability of both PCR and Rapid antigen testing is a very much needed service to the community, at a time when is clear the hospital lab is unable to cope with all of the demand for such testing, both for public health and safety reasons and to facilitate the travelling public.”
Dr. Vanterpool also related that “Both our lives and our livelihoods depend on having easy access to these forms of testing. The public hospital should not have a monopoly on these testing capabilities.”
Dr. Vanterpool also took issue with a second press release from the Government issued on July 16.
The release said the Ministry of Health and Social Development was working with the Management of Eureka Medical Clinic to bring their PCR testing capacity online in a safe and effective manner.
“We have reached out to the Pan-American Health Organization to provide the necessary support to ensure that the necessary biosafety and quality aspects are independently verified and are in place prior to start of testing,” he said.
He also mentioned that these arrangements would improve local laboratory capacity by bringing additional support to the available PCR testing capability as the Territory deals with the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Commenting on the aforementioned, Dr. Vanterpool said the statements from the press releases placed both the Medicure Lab and Eureka Medical Clinic in a bad light.
He continued stating that the release “strongly suggested that both institutions are acting in a cavalier and irresponsible manner.”
Dr. Vanterpool pointed out that while the press release was not name-calling, it was necessary to defend their good name that has been built for over 30 years.
“The Ministry of Health (MoH) has never been known to approve or disapprove any laboratory test in BVI and has no publicly known mechanism in place for authorising or recognising any lab for doing PCR or any other form of test. Prior to Medicure starting PCR testing only the hospital lab did this test. It did not need approval or authorisation from Government. We respect the responsibility that the MoH has to ensure the health of the public and recognise that in a pandemic could act to control irresponsible and dangerous behaviour, if necessary. Not the case here!”
Dr. Vanterpool added that while there is a need to ensure accuracy of PCR test results, there is no need to undergo the prolonged and complex process that was said to be necessary in the press release.
He pointed out that Medicure lab already has the essential requirements in place to qualify at level 2 biosafety standards (same as hospital) and has in the past been advised by a representative from Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on this matter, so there is no need for PAHOs involvement at this time.
“The equipment, the reagents and the supplies used for doing PCR testing at Medicure Lab are the similar as those at the public lab. Our in-house technologists have been well trained in the use of these equipment and on the in the processes and protocols for doing accurate testing. We have sort to get our lab results validated by sending representative samples to the public lab at the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital and to an overseas reference laboratory. We have had good correlation and agreement (concurrence) on results with both of these external labs.”