St Augustine lab on COVID-19 testing: We’re doing nothing wrong

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 - 15:45

Three days af­ter the Caribbean Pub­lic Health Agency (CARPHA) claimed it was the on­ly re­gion­al ref­er­ence lab­o­ra­to­ry ac­cred­it­ed to test for the nov­el coro­n­avirus (COVID-19) and al­so con­firm pos­i­tive/neg­a­tive re­sults—of­fi­cials at the St Au­gus­tine Med­ical Lab­o­ra­to­ry (STAML) say they are do­ing noth­ing wrong or il­le­gal as they too, per­form ver­i­fied di­ag­nos­tic tests for the virus.


Re­fus­ing to en­gage in a pub­lic con­fronta­tion with CARPHA and the Min­istry of Health on the is­sue, STAML’s deputy di­rec­tor Dr Shari Ram­saran said they re­mained con­cerned about the pos­si­ble en­try of COVID-19 in­to T&T as this would be detri­men­tal to the pop­u­la­tion.

Speak­ing with Guardian Me­dia at their of­fice, Ram­saran re­it­er­at­ed, “In what­ev­er way we can, we are here to as­sist.”

“Our job is cen­tered around di­ag­nos­tics and we are not known to be ir­re­spon­si­ble in health care.”

Pro­vid­ing some in­sight in­to how they came to be in­volved in test­ing for COVID-19, Ram­saran said, “We have been in touch with CARPHA and the Min­istry long be­fore a test was avail­able for COVID-19, in­form­ing them of our in­ter­est to do test­ing.”

She said an in­for­ma­tive ar­ti­cle had been post­ed to so­cial me­dia on Jan­u­ary 31, ad­dress­ing the pub­lic on coro­n­avirus and STAML’s promise to, “Be up­dat­ed with all di­ag­nos­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties and stan­dard cri­te­ria to de­liv­er ser­vices if need be.”

Ram­saran went on, “We even of­fered pos­si­bil­i­ties to CARPHA in which to date, March 6, it was agreed to work as a team as this was the way for­ward.”

STAML has a state-of-the-art mol­e­c­u­lar di­ag­nos­tics lab­o­ra­to­ry with a PCR sec­tion with all tests ISO 15189 in­ter­na­tion­al­ly ac­cred­it­ed, which Ram­saran said was, “very ca­pa­ble of do­ing COVID-19 while meet­ing in­ter­na­tion­al re­quire­ments.”

She added, “On more than one oc­ca­sion, we have reached out to the Min­is­ter of Health and his CMO to bring their ex­perts to vis­it us and re­view our staff qual­i­fi­ca­tions, PCR lab, poli­cies and qual­i­ty as­sur­ance sys­tems to avoid mak­ing any un­in­formed, reck­less state­ments. To date, we have had no re­sponse.”

Ram­saran said, “If we do get a sam­ple here that has test­ed pos­i­tive as it was agreed with CARPHA be­fore, it will be sent to CARPHA who is the gov­ern­ing body to re­con­firm this pos­i­tive and for sta­tis­ti­cal rea­son, and that is our le­gal oblig­a­tion to do and which we are very hap­py to ful­fill.”

She ex­plained it was il­le­gal to refuse to ac­cept any sam­ple.

STAML is one of sev­er­al pri­vate lab­o­ra­to­ries that are test­ing for the COVID-19.

Asked if STAML felt the state­ment by CARPHA was dam­ag­ing to its’ rep­u­ta­tion as a cred­i­ble test­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry, Ram­saran said, “It is not dam­ag­ing at all be­cause we stand by our rep­u­ta­tion and our clien­tele and our pa­tients that have been with us for the last 35 plus years are very hap­py with us.”

“They know the work we do, the high­est qual­i­ty and ef­fi­cien­cy we pro­vide, with­out com­pro­mis­ing our pa­tients.”

She urged lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to join with the pri­vate sec­tor as she said, “In a time of a world health cri­sis where the US has is­sued ad­vice for pri­vate labs to go ahead and test be­cause we need as many ca­pa­ble peo­ple test­ing on the mar­ket…this is the on­ly coun­try in the world say­ing hold up, we on­ly want one test­ing body. I think it is very un­for­tu­nate and sad that that is the di­rec­tion our health care has gone in.”

She ad­vised, “We need to put aside ego and fo­cus on the fact that this is a health care cri­sis and if it reach­es T&T, we can be in se­ri­ous trou­ble and the per­son at the fore­front is the pa­tient. They are the ones that are go­ing to suf­fer and you need to of­fer them the best. You need to of­fer them op­tions and you need to be a 100 per cent pre­pared.”

Mean­while, Ram­saran’s fa­ther Dr Bal Ram­saran echoed his daugh­ter’s sen­ti­ments as he said, “It is sad the au­thor­i­ties are tak­ing this con­fronta­tion­al ap­proach. They should be more ma­ture and meet with us.”

Reporter: Anna-Lisa Paul