Joe Issa Backs Government to Improve Diagnostic Capability and Treatment for Viral Infections

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Joe Issa, a well-known financial wizard and tourism bright spark turned health and wellness enthusiast, has backed the government to improve the country’s capacity to diagnose and treat viral infections, claiming this would reduce pressure on families, improve workforce productivity and save the country valuable foreign exchange in an epidemic or pandemic.

Submitted: February 08, 2017

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Submitted: February 08, 2017

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Joe Issa, a well-known financial wizard and tourism bright spark turned health and wellness enthusiast, has backed the government to improve the country’s capacity to diagnose and treat viral infections, claiming this would reduce pressure on families, improve workforce productivity and save the country valuable foreign exchange in an epidemic or pandemic.

Stating that Jamaica’s greatest assets are its people, Issa says funding the country’s diagnostic capability and curative capacity “is not an act of philanthropy or merely government social responsibility; it’s an investment in the health sector which has a long and certain payback to persons and industry.”

“This investment in the health of the nation ensures the sustainability of all sectors of the economy…no other sector is more pivotal to the nation than the health sector…the financial sector can collapse and rebuilt shortly after, but not so for an epidemic from which the country can take years to recover.

“Hence the need to enhance the capacity of the health sector to make early diagnosis and produce the necessary vaccines in the event of an outbreak of viral infection which can cripple the country while we wait for tests results from overseas,” says Issa, who continues to give back to children and communities through Cool Charities, a subsidiary of his Cool Group of over 50 companies.

Stating that he is no health expert Issa, who has previously highlighted the importance of health and wellness in several interviews, was at time the time defending the government’s support for a better health sector equipped with improved surveillance and clinical management capability, in which he said “we have made strides, but like other countries, there is much work left to be done.”

In stressing the importance of improved diagnostic services, treatment and research especially for infectious diseases as a strategic objective of the health ministry, Issa says, “We only need to recall our struggles with Chikungunya, Ebola, H1N1 and Zika, which we now have the capability to test locally with a short turnaround time for results.

Minister of Health Dr. Christopher Tufton last year visited the newly upgraded National Virology Reference Laboratory housed at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

The lab has been testing for Influenza A (H1N1) and has so far detected 46 cases of the virus in Jamaica. It is the only laboratory that offers viral culture and houses the National Influenza Centre (NIC) for the island.

As a result of the upgrade the lab is now fully equipped to test for viral infections, which means that Jamaica no longer has to send samples overseas to test for suspected cases of the Zika Virus (ZikV). The improvements have also provided increased capacity for the testing of dengue and chikungunya.

According to the JIS, the lab was upgraded through resources from the National Health Fund (NHF) with support from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund. It is now equipped with a state-of-the-art Real-time Thermal Cycler that has the capacity to test 96 samples and controls within two hours. This machine is also capable of testing multiple pathogens in one sample.

Issa’s fear that it’s not a question of if, but when the next epidemic or pandemic will strike and therefore, the need to be ready, is reflected in Dr. Tufton’s remarks that “with some improvement in human capacity and additional machinery, the turnaround for tests can be even further reduced…that is something that I intend to look at with the technocrats at the Ministry for the next flu season.”

Issa’s concern is also expressed in the abstract from an article by P.A. Tambyah of the National University Health System in Singapore, published at ijidonline.com.

It said, “We live in a world with the constant threat of emerging viral infections. In the last two decades, we have seen the highly publicised emergence of the Nipah Virus, SARS, MERS, the re-emergence of Ebola and the H1N1 2009 pandemic influenza together with a host of other emerging and re-emerging viruses including Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue

.” Noting that despite the billions of dollars spent on prevention and control of infectious diseases most are without effective vaccines or therapeutics, the article also cited yet unanswered issues in pathogenesis and virulence, stating the task ahead is daunting without good international collaboration.

Another article published in the website, brookings.edu/blog/health360/2016/02/16 /zika-virus, also cited alongside vaccine development and provider preparedness, synergy across government agencies as key areas of focus “to understand and learn from past epidemics/pandemics to best inform the unfolding Zika pandemic” in the United States.

As if to appease Issa that Jamaica is not alone in the fight against epidemics, the article said, “The practical nature of these unpredictable pathogens [Zika, etc.] is one our country will be wrestling with for generations; doing so in a fiscally responsible way will require different business models, regulatory flexibility but perhaps most importantly, a sense of institutional memory for past pandemics and the policies that shaped those responses.”


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