Antigen testing coming October

September 18, 2020

Antigen testing, which is a faster, simpler and more cost effective method of testing for the coronavirus (COVID-19), will be introduced in Jamaica.

This was announced by Acting Head of the National Public Health Laboratory, Dr. Michelle Hamilton, who informed that an initial 80,000 testing kits will be arriving in Jamaica in approximately four weeks.

She noted that the antigen test kits are being procured through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) /World Health Organization (WHO), which has sanctioned this type of testing.

The procurement is also being facilitated through collaboration with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and the United Nations.

“We will be rolling out first, within the public sector. We will have a pilot, which will involve the major hospitals and health centres island-wide and the National Public Health Laboratory,” Dr. Hamilton said, while addressing the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ digital press conference on Thursday, September 17.

She noted that full implementation will involve all hospitals, major health centres and private sector laboratories, including labs in private hospitals.

She said that the test must be ordered by a physician to whom the reports will go as well as the Ministry of Health.

Dr. Hamilton said that specialised training in the use of the kits will be carried out, with theoretical training to begin virtually within the next two weeks, while practical training using the kits will be done once they arrive.

In the meantime, Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton, said the introduction of this testing method is “a very important development”, and will allow for more wide-scale testing to be done in the private and public sectors.

He said that the test is more cost effective, compared to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, and allows for faster turnaround time of about half an hour.

“So, there is no need now to send to a lab and to wait two/three days,” he said, noting that the plan had always been to introduce additional testing options.

“So the antigen testing is a game changer for the pace and the efficiency of testing and we are very happy for that…we had to wait for the right time because we had to be guided by PAHO/WHO.

“When you are dealing with people’s lives, this is a sector that has to be cautious; we have to be conservative…we have to be guided by the processes and be ethical in the considerations of what we sanction and what we don’t,” Dr. Tufton pointed out.

He said that the entities that utilise the test, will be required to report the results to the Ministry of Health and Wellness “because the Ministry…needs to know…what is the status of testing throughout the country where these positive cases are and so on…because we need that for public health planning and for health planning generally”.

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