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