by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): According to the Pan American Health Organization, the region faces a COVID-19 testing shortage.
The demand for testing is also higher than ever as cases in the region reach new heights because of the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.
“The Caribbean islands are witnessing the steepest increase in COVID infections since the start of the pandemic. Cases in Martinique have increased by more than 600 percent, and in St. Maarten, they have risen by more than 135 percent. Cases have at least doubled in more than 17 countries and territories which is especially concerning as hospital capacity in many islands remains limited,” said Dr Carrisa Etienne, Director of PAHO, during the January 19 COVID-19 briefing.
PAHO has distributed 12.8 million RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen tests throughout the pandemic to the region and has done so for some countries recently, including St. Kitts and Nevis.
“In the last few weeks, we have sent tests to quickly increase capacity in Bolivia, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Kitts and Nevis,” said Dr Etienne.
Our island Federation is currently in the fourth wave of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. To increase detection capacity and minimise the risk of spread, the Ministry of Health had a free testing drive for the first two weeks of January 2022. From that period, the Ministry of Health reported that it learned the variant in circulation was highly transmissible, but there were minimal symptoms, and the illness was less severe.
Recently the reports have shown a downward trend of daily and active cases with the highest numbers recorded during the fourth wave reporting 238 and 1,360 respectively.
Local Health Authorities feel that the current spread results from the Omicron variant being in circulation. According to Dr Hazel Laws, Chief Medical Officer in St. Kitts and Nevis, 25 samples were sent off for genomic sequencing on January 5. All came back positive for the Omicron variant.
“This provides us with objective evidence that the Omicron variant is in circulation and probably is now the dominant variant in circulation in the Federation currently,” said Dr Laws.
While there is a testing shortage, PAHO suggests using the alternatives available.
“We believe that the best way to scale up testing is the leverage rapid antigen test which offers a diagnosis in minutes and not days. Rapid tests do not require specialised training or expensive equipment. And they can be deployed to primary health centres where they can reach more people closer to home. We urge countries to expand testing at the community level to relieve the pressures on hospitals which are working overtime,” suggested PAHO’s Director.