The National Central Laboratory of the Bureau for Public Health is recognized and designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the National Influenza Health Center. On behalf of WHO the PAHO/WHO representative Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell officially handed over the relevant recognition letter signed by the PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Etienne, to the Minister of Health, Antoine Elias on 25 June 2020. The terms of reference for what the National Laboratory is expected to do to maintain this recognition was included.
Suriname was one of the first countries in the region to have the capacity to test for COVID-19 and PAHO has been supporting the laboratory with Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)-test kits to support the continued testing for COVID-19. Part of the strategy for COVID-19 is also to test for influenza, "because as we move further into the pandemic…," Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell said "we have to use the influenza surveillance system as well to be able to assist with the detection of COVID-19, especially if we now move beyond the clusters of cases, we have influenza like illness and severe acute respiratory infection surveillance systems to help us identify COVID-19 also. So it was really very important that we built capacity at the Central Lab and it really required a lot of work to put such a system in place and ensuring that quality assurance is maintained."
According to Dr. Lewis-Bell this designation is not ongoing automatically, "it won’t last forever, because the country and the lab still has to meet certain requirements, there is a Terms of Reference with respect to ensuring that quality assurance is in place, so they have to meet certain requirements to maintain this designation."
To achieve this recognition a laboratory has to meet certain safety requirements based on the criteria of WHO. "You must deliver quality…," said Merrel Wongsokarijo head of the Centraal Laboratorium, "you must be able to use certain standards in the laboratory, you must be an accredited lab, the people who carry out the work must be competent, and you must be able to test based on the criteria of PAHO and to ship the material - influenza - to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for further research and to help develop the yearly vaccine against influenza," said Wongsokarijo. According to him there are several types of influenza viruses and each year different types cause disease, "so you need to know what types are circulating in the region and based on that, they can develop a targeted vaccine." For Wongsokarijo the recognition means that "you work at a certain level, provide certain qualitative services in the field of influenza. For us, this is of course a milestone that we have reached in the history of the Central Lab."