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A COVID-19 antigen quick test kit.

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In a few months, citizens will be able to be screened at health centres and emergency departments at public hospitals for the COVID-19 virus with the use of an antigen quick test.

This was the word from Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh at yesterday’s virtual press briefing as he said the ministry had shelled out close to US$1 million to purchase 160,000 test kits through the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).

“We did a needs analysis, we sourced the funding and signed on off on Friday and I am now able to tell you we have sourced 160,000 rapid testing antigen kits, at a cost of $6US per test, so that is going to be an investment of around $960,000US,” Deyalsingh said.

He said this investment is crucial in the ministry’s push to decentralise testing so in order to increase testing across the country.

Deyalsingh said while the ministry was asked about using antigen test kits several months ago, the tests available at that time were deemed to have had a very high ‘fail’ rate.

“We did say at that time that the antigen testing that was available was not very accurate. It had between a 25 to 50 per cent false-negative failure rate and we felt those figures were not good enough,” he said.

But the Health Minister said the new test kits have an accuracy rate of 95 per cent and above.

“This is going to be a total game-changer as we continue and deepen our policy of decentralisation of testing,” Deyalsingh said.

He said he had a conversation on Monday morning with PAHO’s representative to Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Erica Wheeler, who assured him that Trinidad and Tobago’s order will be put on the production line and should be ready soon.

“It will be deployed once it reaches Trinidad and Tobago at the primary level and the emergency departments,” Deyalsingh said.

But Deyalsingh said while these test kits will detect the virus, if a patient does receive a positive result they will still require a Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for a diagnostic result.

He read from the missive sent to him Wheeler, which said, “Mr Minister, I reviewed the information on the test and it is an antigen test. What it does: the test identifies people who are currently infected with the coronavirus, it may be used as a quick test to determine active infections. Initially, it will not be used to diagnose disease but may be used to screen people to identify those who may need a more definitive test, so it is a screen.”

Deyalsingh said the kit itself resembles pregnancy tests that are sold on the open market.