PAHO advocates for increased COVID testing amid Omicron surge

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Amid the surge in COVID-19 cases experienced globally, the Pan- American Health Organization (PAHO) is advocating for an expansion of the rapid COVID-19 testing, particularly at the community level.

The surge in COVID-19 cases globally has been attributed to the spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus. And with more people becoming infected, the demand for testing has increased.

Director of PAHO Dr. Carissa Etienne acknowledged that the demand for testing is “higher than ever” but said that it is critical that countries utilise their limited tests “smartly”.

“We believe that the best way to scale up testing is to leverage rapid antigen tests, which offer a diagnosis in minutes, not days,” Dr. Etienne said during PAHO’s weekly briefing on Wednesday last.

Further, she explained that these tests do not require specialised training or expensive equipment. As such, they can be deployed to primary health centres, allowing easier access to people in communities.

In doing so, she also contended that the pressure of conducting tests and providing care at hospitals can be reduced.

Both the rapid antigen test and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test are used to detect whether an individual has been infected with the novel coronavirus. The PCR test is, however, the ‘gold- standard’ test and does require some specialised training.

“Because we are facing a testing shortage, PAHO recommends that countries prioritise rapid antigen tests for individuals who are experiencing COVID symptoms and are at risk of spreading the virus,” the PAHO Director said.

Director of PAHO, Dr. Carissa Etienne

Later in the Wednesday briefing, PAHO’s Incident Manager Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri noted that the health organization’s recommendation has been to use the PCR tests for symptomatic patients too.

He explained that this means using this ‘gold standard’ test on patients who display some COVID-19 symptoms instead of “blindly applying” it to an unspecified number of people.

“The methodology for lab tests have to follow the situation of the country,” Dr. Aldighieri said also.

Like many countries, Guyana has been experiencing a recent surge in the number of people infected with the novel coronavirus and consequently, thousands of people are COVID positive.

With many more people becoming infected now, however, the Ministry of Health has outlined a new policy to prioritise the use of the limited COVID-19 tests in the public sector.

Last Thursday, during his daily COVID-19 update, Health Minister Dr. Frank Antony highlighted that only symptomatic persons will be tested using the antigen test. Unlike what was done before, if an individual tests positive with an antigen test, a PCR test will not be done to verify that an individual is indeed COVID positive.

Importantly, too, only patients in hospitals and those accessing emergency services, as well as high-risk persons, will be tested with those PCR tests.

“This is very important because what we see is persons coming and clogging up the system, not having any symptoms, just believing that they should be tested and might not have been exposed,” Dr Anthony reasoned.

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