Jamaica moves 80,000 steps closer to rapid COVID-19 tests


Jamaica moves 80,000 steps closer to rapid COVID-19 tests

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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THE Ministry of Health and Wellness's push to introduce antigen rapid diagnostic COVID-19 tests in Jamaica moved a step closer yesterday with a multi-partner donation of more than 80,000 kits.

The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), in partnership with the Government of the United Kingdom (UK) and the United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund, delivered the antigen rapid tests as part of a large COVID-19 response package worth over US$1 million.

Just under one week ago, PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne announced that the regional entity had received “hundreds of thousands” of the antigen rapid diagnostic tests through its Strategic Supply Fund.

At that time, Etienne indicated that these supplies were being stored at PAHO's regional warehouse in Panama for distribution to member countries, including Jamaica.

“These new diagnostics will allow us to test more people faster and more accurately than ever before. If distributed widely, these new tests will transform our COVID-19 response,” said Etienne.

The new antigen rapid tests will slash COVID-19 results processing time in Jamaica from multiple days to just 30 minutes.

After appropriate training, private labs and regional health centres will also be able to perform tests at the point of care, which will decentralise testing, reduce the burden on national laboratories and increase Jamaica's testing capacity.

“The introduction of antigen rapid testing comes at a critical juncture in the COVID-19 response,” said Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, minister of state in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, on receiving the donation yesterday. “Testing is a critical cornerstone of the COVID-19 response and antigen rapid tests will give our response the added boost needed to further contain the spread of the virus.”

In addition to the rapid test kits, the partners yesterday donated nine oxygen concentrators and more than 350,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) consisting of N95 respirators, along with face shields and medical masks, to the ministry.

British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad underscored the importance of maintaining the safety of front line workers as they respond to the surge in COVID-19 cases across the island.

“The UK is concerned about the safety of local front line health care heroes, and by replenishing stockpiles of PPE we are meeting an essential need,” said Ahmad.

“Speed is of the essence in tackling COVID-19, and antigen rapid tests will give Jamaica vital time to isolate and treat those who are infected by the virus. Our approach to the pandemic is to work closely with Jamaica, international organisations and also offer direct support,” added Ahmad.

PAHO has already begun to help implement new testing protocols so local health workers will learn how to use the new diagnostic tests and record their results.

Caribbean Programme Coordinator for PAHO Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi highlighted that the new antigen rapid diagnostic test is not meant to replace the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which remains the gold standard in COVID-19 testing.

“PAHO believes the new antigen rapid tests will be a game-changer for Jamaica's testing capabilities, offering a cheaper and faster alternative to give the response the flexibility it needs to increase the pace of testing, tracing and treating people for COVID-19 at the point of care [so as] to stay ahead of the virus and slow the spread,” said Theodore-Gandi.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness had long announced the planned introduction of the rapid COVID-19 tests while underscoring that this would not be a wholescale replacement for the PCR tests.

Last month, director of National Laboratory Services Dr Michelle Hamilton said that while both procedures detect infection, the PCR test detects the genetic material of the virus while the antigen regime identifies proteins that the virus produces.

“Both of these tests give a very good result; they have high specificity. So if they are positive, then we have confidence in the fact that this test can predict the positive cases,” said Hamilton.

Up to yesterday, the health ministry had reported 8,714 positive COVID-19 cases in Jamaica with 4,129 being active.

The ministry also reported 188 COVID-related deaths with 4,303 people recovered after testing positive for the virus.

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