The Jamaican government will be spending J$10-million to upgrade and improve the Virology Laboratory on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) to ensure that testing for the Zika Virus (ZikV) can be conducted locally.
This was disclosed by Minister of Health, Horace Dalley, during a press briefing Wednesday.
“The biggest challenge we have is that there is no lab in Jamaica right now that has the capacity or is accredited or certified to test for Zika. We will be investing in the university’s Virology Lab to ensure that they have the capacity,” he said.
ZikV is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is found in and around areas where people live, work and play.
Dalley said the upgrading of the lab should be completed within the next three to four weeks. He informed that the necessary equipment has already been ordered and the staffing at the laboratory will be expanded.
Currently, suspected samples of ZikV are sent to the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) laboratory for testing.
“So, we (won’t) have to send any suspected case of the Zika Virus to Trinidad and to get (results) back in 24 to 48 hours. The Virology Lab at the University of the West Indies will give us the results in three hours which is much) faster.”
Dalley said the laboratory will have the capacity to test approximately 100 cases per day.
The Health Minister said teams at the Ministry and UWI will continue to meet to ensure that the laboratory operates effectively.
Nineteen countries in the Americas have confirmed the outbreak Zika.
These are Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Suriname and Venezuela.
Earlier this week, the Ministry of Health urged Jamaican women to delay pregnancy for the next six to 12 months given the possible connection between Zika and the neurological condition, microcephaly.
Microcephaly is an abnormal growth of the brain and stunting of the growth of the head of the foetus arising from infection in the first months of pregnancy. Babies who develop microcephaly in the womb may not live to full term, may be born prematurely, may be still born or may survive but with lifelong disability.