COVID-19 testing in Guyana over the last six months was not only a total disaster; it was criminal neglect. The diagnostic tests available for COVID-19 were provided by PAHO since March. By April, PAHO/WHO had donated more than 7,000 test kits for Guyana. But no policy for wide-scale testing was addressed. More significant is that the single PCR testing machine at the Public Health Laboratory was the only one used. It turned out that other government agencies also had PCR machines not being used. For example, there was a PCR testing machine at the Guyana Livestock Development Agency. That machine is now at the Public Health Laboratory, and finally being prepared for use. There is also a PCR machine at Mercy Hospital, but they have no kits to conduct the test. Therefore, it was not for a lack of machines; there were others never utilised.
The reckless non-use of the machines is even more criminal because, through donors, two new machines were shipped to Guyana, and were sitting at the Laparkan warehouse for several weeks now. Only this week, those two PCR machines were taken possession of. Minister Anthony has worked with PAHO/WHO to arrange a virtual training of technicians, so that Guyana can shift from a single-shift testing arrangement to multiple machines working double shifts and working seven days. It turns out that not only was a single machine being used in a single shift by a single technician, there was no testing on weekends. In the middle of the COVID-19 rampage, Guyana was on a siesta. This was not just mismanagement, not just stupidity; this was recklessness and criminality.
It is just over a week since President Irfaan Ali has been sworn in as Guyana’s 9th President. It is less than a week since his cabinet has been sworn in. Two quick signals of the exciting possibilities for Guyana are already evident. Both President Ali and his cabinet have the hit the road running, busy in the communities as they have begun to move Guyana forward. The second is the goodwill, enthusiasm and hope that the new government has generated. The Guyanese people from all walks of life, from all sides, have responded with goodwill towards the new President and his government. People who did not vote for him and his party have either openly or quietly insisted the new government be given a chance to repair the great damage that has been inflicted on Guyana. The international community, who so bravely stood on the side of freedom and democracy, is excited to work with the new government and the Guyanese people.
Even as our new government is trying to restore confidence and to right the ship, the waters are extremely turbulent. COVID-19 defiantly stares at us as an existential threat. Even as several Caricom countries boast of no COVID-19, COVID-19 is rampaging in Guyana, particularly in the hinterland. We knew the management of this serious pandemic in Guyana was weak, we now discover that the COVID-19 management was not just a case of mismanagement, the neglect was criminal. The new Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, and his team are busy stabilising the ship that is presently precariously threatened with sinking. Like most threats, this threat will pass.
Throughout the last eight months with COVID-19 rampaging itself across the globe, scientists and public health experts have insisted that wide-scale testing is one of the indispensable public health interventions, providing the intelligence for the whereabouts of this formidable, unseen enemy. For most of the time since Guyana’s first case was detected on March 11, Guyana’s testing has been meek, reluctant, and almost invisible. It is more than five months since Guyana’s first case, and it is only now that Guyana has completed over 5,000 tests, more than half of which have been in the last two months. The truth is Guyana’s COVID-19 testing is presently a recipe for disaster, facilitating the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Guyana.
One of the first signals the new Irfaan Ali-government and the Frank Anthony-led Ministry of Health provided that there is a new dispensation in the management of COVID-19 in Guyana was a new urgency in their approach to testing. There is a complete transformation. Within days, there would be more than 70,000 new tests available in the country, to embark on an aggressive wide-scale testing of the population for COVID-19. This new approach is one that is five months late. It is not that science has given us a new insight. The science relating to testing that we know today was known in March also. But those responsible for the management of COVID-19 at the time recklessly ignored the importance of wide-scale testing.
The COVID-19 testing approach in Guyana is about to change. It is an indication that the new Ministry of Health and the new Government are on the ball, and are determined to face the COVID-19 rampage. Guyanese can be assured that the new government will not permit COVID-19 to realise its existential threat. We will control COVID-19 in a short period.