Fight against COVID-19 just got a game-changing shot in the arm

Editorial

Fight against COVID-19 just got a game-changing shot in the arm

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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Jamaica's receipt of 80,000 antigen rapid diagnostic testing kits this week will prove, we have no doubt, to be the gift which keeps on giving, and a sure game-changer in the fight to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic.

For that reason, our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) which, in partnership with the Government of the United Kingdom and the United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund, delivered the antigen rapid test kits on Monday as part of a large COVID-19 response package worth over US$1 million.

These new diagnostics will allow Jamaican authorities to test more people and get results faster than ever before. If distributed widely, this will transform our COVID-19 response, the PAHO has assured.

Word is that the new antigen rapid test kits will slash COVID-19 results processing time in Jamaica from multiple days to just 30 minutes, meaning that people will no longer have to wait an interminable length of time to get results, potentially spreading the virus while they wait.

After appropriate training, private labs and regional health centres will also be able to perform tests at the point of care, which will decentralise testing, reduce the burden on national laboratories, and increase Jamaica's testing capacity.

One really important development will be the Government's ability to work more comfortably with the island's private laboratories in testing, thus lightening the burden on the public health system.

We recently in this space asked why the Health Ministry had not been partnering with the private labs to handle the load which the Government could not. Of course, we know that the authorities had to be extra careful in divesting some of its responsibilities to private sector players.

Then there is always the behind-the-scene politicking in which some private labs might not be liked or favoured by some public sector officials, for a variety of reasons, including partisan politics. We will leave it at that.

We agree wholeheartedly with junior health minister Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn that testing is a critical cornerstone of the COVID-19 response and that antigen rapid tests would give our response the added boost needed to further contain the spread of the virus.

That proven friend of Jamaica, British High Commissioner to Kingston Asif Ahmad makes a telling point that: “Speed is of the essence in tackling COVID-19, and antigen rapid tests will give Jamaica vital time to isolate and treat those who are infected by the virus…”

In addition to the rapid test kits, the partners, on Monday, donated nine oxygen concentrators and more than 350,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) consisting of N95 respirators, along with face shields and medical masks.

We have specially noted PAHO's assurance that the new antigen rapid diagnostic test is not meant to replace the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which remains the gold standard in COVID-19 testing.

However, the new antigen rapid tests offer a cheaper and faster alternative, increasing the pace of testing, tracing, and treating people for COVID-19, we are told.

This is a good day in the fight against the coronavirus that will be with us for the foreseeable future.


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