Bring covid19 testing home

Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh - SUREASH CHOLAI
Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh - SUREASH CHOLAI

THE WILLINGNESS of Government to leave the path clear for the importation and use of covid19 home testing kits is welcome.

But with health officials bracing for an omicron wave, there is a particular onus on the State to deploy the use of these kits more strategically.

Earlier this month, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said the Government was not opposed to home testing kits becoming available, saying the process of approval is a simple one. In response, pharmacies suggested they could play a special role in the introduction of these kits into the local market.

Previously, antigen tests have been primarily for use at healthcare institutions as a kind of screening measure. But as it relates to the general public, the minister once had a less permissive approach, saying in May that charges were being considered against a pharmacy that reportedly offered such kits for sale.

It is understandable why, in the earlier stages of the pandemic, the Government may have frowned upon home-testing kits being widely available. Such kits are not as accurate as molecular tests. Additionally, rapid testing poses a challenge to reporting. It is harder to keep track of the number of cases of covid19 when people can test themselves at home.

But these concerns notwithstanding, the use of home test kits has always, on balance, represented a possible enhancement of our overall ability to tackle covid19. Such kits allow people to make responsible choices.

In countries all over the world, people can routinely test before meeting up with friends and family – reducing the risk for everyone. While the results are not as reliable, these kits can still identify many cases that might otherwise go undetected if they are very mild or asymptomatic.

Given the higher costs involved in other forms of testing, as well as the long delay now associated with getting results, due to the sheer number of samples, allowing antigen testing can help relieve some of the burden on the State, and simultaneously encourage people to take a more hands-on approach when it comes to their status.

The Government should do more than simply permit importation. It should consider subsidising kits, as well as using technology to allow end-users to self-report results, whether positive or negative. The proposal that your local pharmacist could be made responsible for administering the test is also not a bad one.

The warnings issued on Monday by Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds and emergency care specialist Dr Joanne Paul in relation to the omicron variant also suggest the State has little choice but to allow more people to test at home.

Not only might cases soon overwhelm state facilities, but children are particularly vulnerable to omicron, and home testing could be key to stopping the spread of the virus at schools.


"Bring covid19 testing home"

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