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Health Ministry discourages use of RDTs to screen asymptomatic patients

Kaleebu

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Ministry of Health has cautioned COVID-19 testing facilities about the use of antigen COVID-19 Rapid Diagnostic Kits (RDTs) to screen asymptomatic patients.

According to the health ministry, the RDTs should be used to test persons who have symptoms of COVID-19 because they have high viral loads of the disease that can easily be detected by the antigen RDTs.

The ministry’s warning comes at a time when many health facilities in the country have been using RDTs to carry out tests on asymptomatic patients. The tests had become popular due to their low pricing. RDT testing costs between Shs 60,000-80,000 on the open market compared to Shs 200,000 and more for a PCR test.

Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu, the director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) says the results of asymptomatic patients that use RDTS have a more than 50 percent chance of being false. He says due to low viral loads of the disease, asymptomatic patients will likely get a negative result when they are actually positive, and thus lead to further transmission of the disease.

Some of the common symptoms of COVID-19 in this second wave include headaches, sore throat, shortness of breath, loss of smell, diarrhea and a runny nose. Prof. Kaleebu says people who present with two or more of these symptoms can use a RDT test.

Two antigen RDTs, the Panbio COVID-19 Antigen test manufactured by Abbott Pharmaceuticals and the Standard Q test manufactured in South Korea are currently being used in Uganda. The sensitivity of the RDTs is 50 percent compared to the PCR one that stands at over 80 percent according to Prof. Kaleebu.

According to Prof. Kaleebu, persons with symptoms that test positive even when a PCR test is carried out will likely test positive but asymptomatic negative patients will turn out to be positive. To increase the COVID-19 testing capacity, the health ministry has distributed antigen RDTs country wide.

The Ministry of Health Minister, Dr. Ruth Aceng says the kits will enable easier and faster screening of possible COVID-19 infections. She says the testing is free of charge at all government facilities.

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