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Medics seek alternative methods for COVID-19 testing

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Medics treating COVID-19 patients and those carrying out testing of samples want the government to introduce alternative tests for COVID-19.

Currently, the government recommends the use of PCR tests as the best way to determine whether someone has COVID-19 or not. The tests are estimated to have a 98 percent accuracy rate and are used as the basis upon which treatment can be provided.

The medics say that the PCR tests are often wrong which leaves many critical patients at risk. They want the government to allow the use of imaging and symptoms to determine whether one has COVID-19 or not.

Dr Freddie Nakwagala, a senior consultant physician at Mulago National Referral Hospital says that they have cases of patients that have all the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 but their PCR results say the person is negative.

“We got a patient in October that had a negative COVID-19 PCR test but had all the other symptoms of COVID 19. He had difficulty in breathing and a radiological diagnosis showed his lungs have a brown glassy appearance common with COVID patients. We gave this patient all the COVID treatment we had but the patient kept on worsening and we could not get them a bed on the ICU ward because his results showed he was negative,” he said.

Nakwagala says that due to the requirement that cases of COVID-19 need a PCR test, some patients have succumbed to the disease when they could have survived.

Dr Isaac Ssewanyana, the Director for Laboratory Services at the Uganda National Health Laboratory Services says that over 10,000 tests are carried out every day in the country. He says with such high figures, alternative testing methods are needed in the country to try and meet the demand for COVID-19 PCR tests.

At the moment, Uganda is carrying out a study to determine the efficacy of Rapid Diagnostic Kits. However, results from studies carried out in the United States show the tests have a lower accuracy level compared to PCRs.

Dr Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health says that the government is considering looking into other testing means to enable quick service delivery for patients.

“We need to have a proper algorithm that combines both PCR and RDT testing to enable quick service delivery. We need to look at ways to make testing easy using radiological means or even saliva. We need to find a quicker affordable way to carry out testing,” she said.

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