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New Laboratory Promises Faster Detection And Response to Disease Outbreaks in the Caribbean

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is now better equipped to perform faster and safer detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks in the region, thanks to the government of Canada’s Global Partnership Program (GPP), which donated a fully equipped Biosafety Level 3 laboratory to CARPHA, the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean.

The new laboratory was handed over to CARPHA by Gérard Latulippe, the high commissioner for Canada to Trinidad and Tobago during a ceremony held at the agency’s headquarters in Port of Spain.

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Latulippe said, “In our modern age, disease knows no boundaries.”

He added, “Isolated disease threats can very quickly become regional or global menaces, posing serious threats to the health, safety and security of people the world over.”

The high commissioner explained that this new laboratory is intended to strengthen biological security, biological safety and biological risk management across the Caribbean. He further indicated that the GPP works collaboratively at the “health-security interface” to address biological threats of shared concern and responsibility to health and security sectors.

Dr. C. James Hospedales, executive director of CARPHA, pointed out that the movement of international travelers, as well as the increased volume of global food trade can facilitate rapid disease outbreaks among countries.

“Having the capacity to rapidly detect, diagnose and respond to disease outbreaks, natural or deliberate, is of paramount importance toward safeguarding our economies,” he said.

Minister of health of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Fuad Khan, also emphasized the importance of this facility upgrade: “This first-class laboratory will enable us to be even better prepared for any emergencies that can be caused by pathogenic agents through early detection and enhanced response capabilities.”

He added that this is of significant importance to the Caribbean, even as it seeks to combat diseases such as the recently detected chikungunya virus.

The CARPHA laboratory is currently the only laboratory in the English-speaking Caribbean with the capacity to detect and diagnose cases caused by the chikungunya pathogen.

Hospedales indicated that “the new facility will in time allow us to strengthen surveillance and conduct operational research on this chikungunya virus.”

In addition to the laboratory facility, which cost CAD $2.5 million, the Canadian government also provided sample collection kits, with the cooperation of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in 2012, valued at CAD $950,000.

Dr. Yitades Gebre, adviser of family health and disease management at the PAHO, and Jeff Serle, senior vice president of Germ Free Laboratories in Florida, manufacturer of the laboratory facility, also delivered remarks at the handover ceremony.


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