CARONI East MP Dr Rishad Seecheran on Friday called on the Ministry of Health to distribute thousands of antigen rapid test kits for people to be able to test themselves for covid19 and returning nationals be allowed to bring them into TT for their personal use.
He was commenting on questions from Newsday about reports of returning TT nationals buying kits at US pharmacies – as a cheaper alternative to expensive PCR tests at private labs in TT – but these then being seized at Piarco International Airport by customs and excise officers who told passengers to fill out a form to seek permission from the Chemistry, Food and Drugs Division of the Ministry of Health. Reports are that many ex-expatriate TT nationals are set to return for Christmas but are likely unaware the test kits are not approved to be allowed entry at Piarco.
Acting comptroller of the Customs and Excise Division Vidia Marcelle told Newsday on Friday that when such kits are seized by officers they are referred to the health ministry. Asked if a more proactive system could be set up for an approved list of kits to be published beforehand, she said she would ask the Ministry of Finance's permanent secretary to liaise on this with the PS of the health ministry. The ministry at first did not allow private labs to test for covid19 and when it finally relented, it ordered these labs to notify it of any positive cases found.
Seecheran said, "The recommendation is for the Ministry of Health to immediately identify which kits were authorised for the test." He promised to raise the matter as a question on notice to Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh in the House of Representatives.
Seecheran said while the PCR test was the gold standard of testing, the antigen test was much cheaper and quicker to conduct, while still 99 per cent accurate.
He said there was a need for in-home testing, which he said could promptly pick up any asymptomatic carriers of covid19 so they could avoid spreading it to others.
"There are hundreds of thousands of kits on a shelf in the Ministry of Health. Why are they not distributing it to the public?"
Seecheran reckoned a recent surge in covid19 cases was due to failings of the safe zone initiative. He said while proof of vaccination was first needed to enter safe zones, break-through infections in vaccinated individuals could occur, but without the widespread use of the antigen rapid testing, asymptomatic individuals be free could spread covid19 in safe zones and beyond.
Noting rising daily infections of 500, 600 or 700, he said TT should look at what developed countries were doing and stop making it difficult for people to get a fast, reliable test.
To make his point, Seecheran said a top petrochemical company in TT has recently changed its policy such that vaccinated employees must also regularly take the antigen rapid test.
Responding to questions from Newsday at the Ministry of Health covid19 press conference on Saturday, Deyalsingh applications can be made for the use of the rapid test.
“Any manufacturer of a WHO-approved rapid antigen test can make an application to the Chemistry Food and Drugs (Division) under their general, known, old applicable policy of approving medical devices.
“Anybody can make that application to sell rapid antigen tests to the general public. It is an established procedure for any medical device,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram added that even for individual use, if the product was not a registered one, customs would expect certain documents such as a letter of authorisation. Customs would seize the product until the document was prepared or the individual applied to the Chemistry Food and Drugs Division.
In a release, Seecharan also said that on November 25, according to “Our World in Data”, using data from John Hopkins University, TT had the highest daily confirmed covid19 deaths per million people in the world.
“This was a tragic confirmation of the continued failure of the Minister of Health and his stewardship of our country’s public health response to this global pandemic. On numerous occasions, Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC has called for his resignation and for competent leadership to take the reins.”
However, Deyalsingh contradicted the claims.
“Some objective statisticians and researchers reached out to me between yesterday and this morning to express their concerns that there were some omissions of other countries, that if you apply it, would give a totally different picture.”
He said on Monday, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds would address the manipulation of the data.