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Health ministry gets greenlight for COVID-19 antigen tests

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Uganda is set to start using the Rapid Antigen Detection Test (RADT) for COVID-19, according to the Uganda Virus Research Institute-UVRI. The test was given emergency use status by the World Health Organisation last month.

The test is a rapid point-of-care swab test that directly detects the presence or absence of coronavirus antigen in the patient’s body, generating diagnosis results in less than 30 minutes. These tests are designed to detect a specific protein in the virus that elicits the body’s immune response.

Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the Executive Director of the Uganda Medical Research Council says that the kits manufactured under the brand name-Standard Q COVID-19 Antigen Test have been tested and can be used by the health ministry. Samples of the tests are picked from the nasopharynx-the upper part of the throat behind the nose using swabs.

He says that the antigen test once rolled out will be the primary tool used for diagnosing asymptomatic patients but a follow-up Polymerase Chain Reaction- PCR test will be carried out to confirm the validity of the results.

Despite the approval, Prof Kaleebu says further that evaluations will be carried out on the test because it scored lowly on in their evaluation.

“The WHO recommends that they should have a sensitivity and specificity of 80 and 95 percent. However during our evaluation, we got figures slightly lower than this and that is why we have decided to use it in combination with the PCR test,” he said.

According to the manufactures of the kits, while the kit is supposed to allow detection of the virus, if poor quality specimen is used, the test kits can give false positives or negatives.

Uganda is going to get the kits as part of a campaign funded by various health global organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Fund and WHO. The main aim of the campaign is to provide over 120 million antigen tests to low and middle-income countries across the world.

Dr John Nkengasong, the Director of the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that the initiative will enable countries to cut the transmission chain of the disease.

“Antigen tests are an important complement to PCR testing and are crucial to expanding testing capacity throughout Africa. The beauty of antigen testing is that it is fast and gives quick results. It will allow healthcare workers to quickly isolate cases and treat them while tracing their contacts to cut the transmission chain,” he said.

Before the test can be used, health workers and laboratory technicians will have to undergo training on how to use the kit. Prof Kaleebu says they are also evaluating the BinaxNow COVID-19 Antigen Card manufactured by Abbot Laboratories. Just like the Standard Q test, the BinaxNow too issues results within 15 minutes.

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