Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory receives international designation

Presentation of certificate Best-dos Santos Laboratory Barbados
PAHO/Brenda Lashley

Bridgetown, Barbados, 8th April 2024 (PAHO) - It was a historic day for Barbados on 8th April 2024, when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory as a National Influenza Centre (NIC).

On 31st October 2023, the World Health Organization recognized the laboratory as a National Influenza Centre (NIC) and as a member of the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS). During the April ceremony, the official certificate of designation was presented to the lab.

PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries, Dr. Amalia Del Riego, deemed the occasion a celebration of “the unwavering commitment to health and safety that this represents for Barbados and the wider Caribbean region.”

Dr. Del Riego stated that “the laboratory is recognized for its high standards and its ability to perform specialized diagnostics which contribute to global flu surveillance and provide critical data that helps in the fight against flu and pandemics.”

The lab’s new role will “empower Barbados to better understand the flu, track its changes and protect the population through more effective vaccines and treatments.”

The audience comprising Best-dos Santos Laboratory and Ministry of Health and Wellness staff also heard that many international partners who joined them at the ceremony from the European Union, the US Government, USAID, the Argentinian government, the UK AID, and Canada, have been instrumental in providing support to the laboratory through PAHO.

Prime Minister the Hon. Mia Amor Mottley lauded the designation as a measure of pride for us. The prime minister remarked that “we have shown that it is possible to be able to reach global excellence and to have this designation by the World Health Organization says to the rest of the world that this lab has reached these standards and is capable of being trusted.”

For us to have a lab, said the Prime Minister, that can be truly trusted with respect to its results “doesn’t mean there’s always perfection, but that the systems and processes are worthy of trust and that if something goes wrong, we can easily and quickly determine what has happened in order to get back on the straight and narrow path.”

Referring to Barbadian health champions Sir Kenneth Standard, Sir Kenneth Stuart and former PAHO Director Sir George Alleyne, Prime Minister Mottley said Barbados has shown, particularly in public health, that we are able to produce some of the best in the hemisphere and the world.

The prime minister observed that investing in health means Barbados is moving from monitoring and diagnosing to research and said: “Our people have the capacity also to be at the cutting edge of the research capabilities that we need in this world to make lives better for our people.”

The lab was also credited with providing employment opportunities.

Describing the designation as recognition of years of hard work, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Hon. Davidson Ishmael, credited the lab with processing more than 800,000 tests over the last three years.

As part of the government’s strategic plan, he said, enhanced laboratory services will include cancer diagnostics which includes immunohistochemistry staining, analysis of cancer biomarkers, flow cytometry, genetic testing and more. Screening for COVID-19, influenza A and B are offered and screening protocols for pancreatic and breast cancers are being developed. Antimicrobial resistance surveillance and monitoring is also undertaken by the lab, along with other testing.

Sixty-three million dollars has been allocated toward primary health care in the new financial year, said the Minister, and $2 million has been earmarked for laboratory services, while another $1 million is going toward the upgrade of laboratory equipment.

The Best-dos Santos Laboratory has been instrumental in supporting the neighbouring countries in the Eastern Caribbean, offering training, sharing knowledge, and building capacity. At its helm is its Director, The Most Honorable Songee Beckles FB, FMT, PhD, who guided the audience through the lab’s evolution from dream to an amalgamation of laboratories. The lab opened in 2018 with funding from the US Government and the Barbados Government.

Credit: PAHO/Brenda Lashley - Director of the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory, The Most Honorable Songee Beckles, FB, FMT, PhD (second from right) with staff of the laboratory.