PAHO warns against PCR testing requirements

The Director of Health Emergencies for PAHO, Dr Ciro Ugarte (photo courtesy PAHO)
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By Kadeem Joseph

[email protected]

While countries like Antigua and Barbuda grapple with requirements by Canada, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) for travelers to present a negative PCR Covid-19 test before departure, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) is not supportive of the practice.

The Director of Health Emergencies for PAHO, Dr Ciro Ugarte said, “PAHO does not support the use of testing as a tool to mitigate against the impact of the spread of Covid-19”.

The medical professional said such tests provide a false sense of security to travellers, warning that the result of the test is as accurate as the moment the sample was taken and could change before the traveler initiates their journey.

Several countries and the Caribbean Hotels and Tourism Association argued against the decision, citing the impact it would have on the health systems of countries of origin and the appetite for travel.

Barbados has had a backlog of pending results due to limited testing capabilities, while Antigua and Barbuda announced plans to bring additional PCR machines online to boost testing capabilities.

Dr Urgarte warned of the operational burdens that pre-departure testing may have on the country of origin, noting that such stipulations have the potential to “undermine response efforts”.

“Resources could be diverted from other activities building greater public health impact,” the PAHO representative further cautioned.

He said that public health interventions should be made a priority in these cases rather than testing.

“PCR would have some public health impact if performed upon arrival, however the emergence of SARS CoV-2 variants, may also make the use of this test even less cost effective,” he said. “So, reiterating that the most important approach is to limit transmission and implement public health interventions in both the countries of origin and countries of destination.”

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