Tufton prods private labs to price antigen testing at reasonable rates


Tufton prods private labs to price antigen testing at reasonable rates

Friday, November 27, 2020

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Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton is urging operators of private labs to be reasonable in what they charge to conduct antigen testing for COVID-19.

The health ministry on Monday started a month-long pilot of antigen testing for the novel coronavirus at nine public health facilities islandwide, and on Wednesday Tufton told journalists that private labs will begin offering the tests shortly.

Tufton noted that on completion of the pilot, operators of the private labs will be able to source and administer the test for a fee, while the service will be free of cost in designated public health facilities.

“So, we anticipate that within the next month or so, both private and public health facilities will have the test and it will be administered across the country. This will certainly add to the capacity that we have and, of course, add another dimension to [COVID-19] testing,” Tufton said this week.

He expressed hope that the operators of private laboratories will administer the tests at competitive prices, “so that the populace can benefit… from accessing the test, if not in the public system, certainly in the private system”.

The health minister further pointed out that the antigen testing kits are being made available to Jamaica through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) at a subsidised cost of between US$5 and US$6 (less than J$900) per kit.

At least 12 private laboratories have already been in touch with international suppliers to import the antigen test kits.

Tufton underscored that the antigen test will only be conducted on people displaying symptoms of COVID-19.

Among the benefits is a faster turnaround time for results, about 30 minutes, as opposed to the polymerise chain reaction (PCR) test, which has a longer verification time.

“I think it's good for the COVID-19 response and we are happy about that,” added Tufton.

At present, COVID-19 positive cases in Jamaica are confirmed using PCR tests which detect the genetic information of the virus — the Ribonucleic acid (RNA).

PCR tests can be very labour intensive while antigen tests, which also usually require a nose or throat swab, are less labour intensive and look for proteins that live on the surface of the virus.

In the meantime, director for the National Laboratory Services in the health ministry, Dr Michelle Hamilton, said the ministry has acquired 80,000 antigen test kits for deployment across the public health system.

“We have adequate supplies to do what we need to do,” said Hamilton, who noted that more than 50 health care personnel underwent training in administering the test, with all pilot sites having been equipped and staffed.

“We are going to be continuing training because we have to train [personnel in] the private sector. We will [also] be training persons from additional sites within the public sector so that when we are ready to expand our testing, all of these persons will be [ready],” said Hamilton.

The antigen test has been approved by PAHO and the World Health Organization.

The month-long pilot is being conducted at Kingston Public Hospital, Bustamante Hospital for Children, and Comprehensive Health Centre in the Corporate Area; Spanish Town Hospital in St Catherine; Mandeville Regional Hospital in Manchester; Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James; and St Ann's Bay Regional Hospital.

These are in addition to the National Public Health Laboratory in Kingston, and National Influenza Centre at The University of the West Indies, which are mainstay sites for COVID-19 testing in Jamaica.

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