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Friday 21 September 2018
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Standardising standards

A RECIPE for confusion. How else can we describe the current arrangements in place relating to the TT Bureau of Standards and the Ministry of Health’s Food and Drugs Division? The State needs to plug gaps in oversight as well as resolve the current “turf war” between both agencies. Failure to do so will allow a dangerous situation to continue.

No one can take comfort in the disclosures made at Wednesday’s meeting of the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee which examined the TT Bureau of Standards (TTBS). In response to a question from Independent Senator Melissa Ramkissoon, TTBS executive director Theodore Reddock confirmed that the accreditation of laboratories is not mandatory. While environmental laboratories are accredited, medical laboratories are not.

It is all well and good that the TTBS works directly with some laboratories, but the lack of a proper set of universal standards to which all laboratories should be made to comply is a deeply troubling matter which has serious implications. The treatment and diagnosis of patients is imperilled if it cannot be guaranteed that laboratory work is sound.

But this was just one matter of grave concern which was raised. Officials also painted a picture of a “turf war” between the TTBS and the Ministry of Health’s Food and Drugs Division.

TTBS chairman Lawford Dupres said the bureau’s primary focus is in the area of quality.

He said the TTBS creates voluntary and mandatory standards aimed to protect citizens with respect to the quality of goods imported into TT. However, Dupres said the Food and Drugs Division has responsibilities for food and drugs imported into the country.

The lack of a single agency creates room for much chaos and confusion.

This is all the more troubling given the reports of laboratories at the Ministry of Health not working as they should.

Is it the case that one arm of the State is doing one thing, assuming the other arm is doing another when that is not the case?

If the State cannot solve this conundrum, at the very least it should support the work of agencies such as the Caribbean Med Labs Foundation, an NGO founded under the aegis of Caricom to build and sustain laboratory standards. That said, these issues are far too important to be left unregulated by the State.

Laboratories play a huge role in medical treatment, food safety, forensics, infrastructure development and industry. If we do not impose standards on them, then we will continue to generate unacceptable risks and hinder our economic and social well-being.

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