Home COVID-19 The brain behind our COVID-19 testing lab

The brain behind our COVID-19 testing lab

Dr Darcy.
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  • Meet Dr Darcy


He maybe known amongst his peers but for many Dr. Andrew Darcy is a new name that they only came face to face with recently.

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Perhaps besides the Minister of Health and Medical Services and the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Honiara, many guests who attended the launching of the COVID-19 testing equipment in the country’s pathology lab last month only encountered one of the country’s little known best talents, a scientist, during the occasion.

In a country that relies habitually on expats to manage very scientific workrooms, like a molecule lab, Darcy’s elevation to the top is a rare success story. So when the country’s only pathology lab opened its doors – a confidently speaking Darcy room-by-room and machine-by-machine explained their functions and how they work. He was so persuasive that triggered one of the diplomats to ask are you the one going to manage this? With a smile he replied “yes”.

Darcy is the technical director of the government’s only Molecule Lab, which as of yesterday can now test for COVID-19.

He has just completed his PHD in International Public Health from Kansai University Medical School of Japan and was going to defend his thesis when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place and he was unable to fly out.

Now working on his publication, Darcy is one of the key brains that the government turned to when it wanted to establish a laboratory in Honiara to test for COVID-19. He involved in the planning stage to the completion phase of the lab, which was joyfully opened recently with all the machines now ready for use.

“This is a good opportunity for me to give back to my country,” he told this magazine.Darcy’s PhD research is on dengue. He recalls that initially he used qPCR for comparison purposes in his studies and to find out where the virus comes from.

Asked how difficult it was to assemble the qPCR machines, Darcy replies: “The machines come with a template so you just set up what’s their protocol Standard Operation Procedure.”

“The important thing is the pre-analysis from the labs like how do we work with clinicians on how do we interpret what is produced for instance, garbage in and garbage out,” he told this magazine.

According to WHO ratings, qPCR is one of the most sensitive and accurate methods for detecting, tracking and studying COVID-19. They have been the primary method for confirming COVID-19 cases globally. It can also detect presence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) from nasal or throat swabs and lower respiratory tract specimens collected from patients. Test results take about five hours and can conduct 500-1200 tests per day.

With nationals heading home in the next few days, Darcy and his three colleagues will be busy behind the machines ensuring that samples are tested and results are released in time.

“I am training my staff now to do standard protocols and we will be using all the standards as required for these machines,” says Darcy whose part Malaita and Western.

All of his officers are qualified university graduates.

And he’s not new to lab work. Darcy spends most of his career working as a medical microbiologist for the past 20 years. He spent three years with the SPC in 2000 in Noumea to establish the STI/HIV lab there before rejoining the government.

He returned and became the director of National Training and Research and now he describes himself as a volunteer at the lab.

Asked whether he was getting external support from his colleagues to establish the lab, Andrew says he’s getting peer support from Australia online and his colleague scientists in Japan.

Meanwhile, he admits that their job is a very risky one and they will be regularly tested for COVID-19 to ensure that they have a clean bill of health each time.

He adds one of the challenges now is to train more people to work in the lab so that when someone gets sick work would not be affected. But for now Darcy and team are ready to roll.


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