Consultant in Communicable Disease Control and PHE programme lead, Dr. Autilia Newton and Minister of Health Charles Kirnon cut the ribbon on the new lab. (GIU Photo)

Montserrat Opens New PCR COVID-19 Testing Lab

The Ministry of Health and Social Services has increased its testing capacity for infectious diseases and COVID-19, with the commissioning
of a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Lab at the Glendon Hospital in St John’s on Wednesday June 2, 2021.

Speaking during the blessing ceremony to launch the open-PCR testing system, Minister of Health, Charles Kirnon, said the new facility, goes beyond just testing for COVID-19 as the PCR machine can be used for the testing of other infectious diseases, forensic testing procedures, functional analysis of genes useful for research and detection of genetic diseases among other possibilities.

However, currently the PCR Lab will only be used for COVID-19 tests.

The lab was funded by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), while technical support was provided by Public Health England (PHE).

Consultant in Communicable Disease Control and PHE programme lead, Dr. Autilia Newton, stated that it was a priority to ensure that local testing for COVID-19 could be done. “When the COVID-19 pandemic started the real concern was that all of our UKOTs were unable to test locally, and there is no way you can face such a challenging public health disease like COVID-19 without the ability to say this person has got it, and this other person hasn’t got it,” expressed Dr. Newton.

Senior Medical Technologist at the Glendon Hospital Laboratory, Kimona Daniel-Bourne, explained that her team and the Ministry had to work collectively to build a new laboratory from the ground up and have it fit and safe for use, with all the necessary specialized protocols and equipment.

She noted that PCR testing is usually not an everyday technique carried out by medical technologists especially within the medical laboratory setting in the region. However she said, “Our team of four here at Glendon, took on the role of molecular scientists and rose to the occasion when our country needed us most. Because of our drive, positive-can do attitude and with the support of the Ministry of Health and international partners, namely PHE and FCDO, we were able to accept the challenge and fulfill the need to have testing done here on island.”

Local COVID-19 testing using the closed-PCR testing system commenced on August 31, 2020. The blessing ceremony for the new PCR Lab makes it possible for the Ministry to expand to its testing to include open-PCR testing. With the closed-PCR testing system the extraction and amplification of the virus takes place in a cartridge using one sample at a time, while the open-PCR testing system does not use a cartridge but instead allows for the extraction and preparation to be done by the technologist, and for the testing of multiple samples at a time.