El Salvador swiped our test kits, legislators told

Juan Miguel Pascale, director of  the Gorgas Memorial Institute,  appearing before the National Assembly’s Health Committee. Photo by the National Assembly.

A waylaid shipment, different virus tests
and an estimate of Panama’s infection rate

by Eric Jackson

Uninformed questions, preoccupation with last month’s scandals, who gets what — such are the usual concerns of our political caste. These were mitigated by the Health Committee’s president, Dr. Crispiano Adames, a physician as well as a legislator, in the 15 questions that Dr. Juan Miguel Pascale, director of  the Gorgas Memorial Institute — Panama’s health research organization — was called before the committee to answer. Things soon went beyond the immediate call.

There were the explanations of which tests do what for a body of lay men and women that will play a role in public health policy decisions. No, the blood tests for antibodies don’t tell if someone is presently infected or infectious, although they are useful for other purposed. A shipment of those is on the way. Dr. Pascale opined that what’s most needed are the swab tests which in half an hour or less tell if a person is infected.

And what’s Dr. Pascale’s take on the state of the epidemic here? “In Panama I doubt that we will even have five percent hopefully seven percent  of our people who have already gotten the coronavirus. There are a large number of people susceptible to the virus, so all the more reason we must take care not to get infected.” It was quite the implicit slam against the talk of “herd immunity” and those who would base public policy on that.

Adames gave some assurances that test procurement would only be from reliable companies with experience in that business. Same old same old? Maybe some international leaders in the field? Good and bad things to ponder, but we are led to believe not some guy off the street nor somebody’s cousin who is in the road construction business.

The session’s big surprise, which may have broader implications?

Pascal e told a tale of vicious fighting over medical supplies. “Day by day, month by month, I am struggling to get the necessary supplies to attack this pandemic and make diagnoses, but there is fierce competition for RNA extraction kits,” he told the committee. “A a shipment that was coming to Panama with an RNA extraction kit was stopped in El Salvador — their president said ‘I keep it, because I need it, that’s what happened in Europe.'”

The problem of safe shipping routes in a time of crisis may go beyond medical lab supplies and the Health Committee’s purview.


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