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Terrence Deyalsingh

Rishard Khan

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Medical practitioners and health experts agree with Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh’s assessment that the employment of 160,000 rapid antigen test kits is a “game-changer” in the country’s fight against COVID-19.

Internal medicine specialist and host of CNC3’s Ask the Doctor show, Dr Joel Teelucksingh, was among the first who called for the employment of the tests early in T&T’s first phase of infections. However, the notion was dismissed as a viable option by the Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh and Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram due to the then high inaccuracy of the tests.

But since then, the tests have been improved and according to Deyalsingh, the new test kits have an accuracy rate of 95 per cent and above. In announcing that the kits had been ordered, Deyalsingh said this “is going to be a total game-changer as we continue and deepen our policy of decentralisation of testing.”

Teelucksingh yesterday agreed with the assessment and said it would help break transmission chains and could help to clear the backlog of cases.

“The sensitivity of these tests may be lower than the gold standard (which is PCR tests), but as we said, it comes in terms of the advantages you’d be getting is the cheap and rapid results in a few minutes,” Teelucksingh told Guardian Media in a telephone interview.

Asked about the five per cent inaccuracy of the tests, he said: “It is better to sacrifice a certain or minimal level of sensitivity if you are going to actually be getting the results back in a timely manner, it is cheap and the rapid results would mean you can isolate and identify and then contact trace in a more structured and in a faster manner.”

PCR tests are currently the only diagnostic tool used for COVID-19 locally. However, since the country began experiencing community transmission of the virus, there has been a backlog of tests due to the limitations of the method.

Primary care physician with experience in public health, Dr Keegan Bhaggan shared a similar sentiment to Teelucksingh on the new test kits. He too believes it will help clear up the backlog of tests to be done. He said the rapid antigen kits will be useful in the long-run, noting similar kits are currently used locally for diagnosing other diseases such as dengue.

“It is something that’s going to change in the way we manage it (COVID-19) and in the long-run…maybe two years from now when this is now a disease that is just part of all the countries’ endemic illnesses, that rapid antigen test would be something that we would continue to utilise,” Bhaggan, who is also secretary of the T&T Medical Association, said.

Primary care physician Dr Visham Bhimull said there are two types of rapid test kits available on the market – antibody kits and antigen kits. He explained, however, that antigen kits are a better choice than antibody kits.

“Antigen kits are more sensitive and accurate than antibody kits. So it would be more effective to diagnose COVID-19 in the early stages of infection,” Bhimull said.

All the medical practitioners and health experts agreed that it would be an excellent screening tool but would still require a PCR test for a definitive positive result.

On Monday, Minister Deyalisngh announced that the ministry had purchased 160,000 antigen 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 explained that the kits would be deployed once they reach here “at the primary level and the emergency departments.”

However, he noted that once a positive result is detected, a PCR test would still be required.