A major milestone in COVID-19 testing

As global efforts continue to be intensified by international health partners and governments, it was recently announced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that a test which can accurately diagnose coronavirus in minutes will soon be available to developing countries.
Experts have suggested that the test which costs around $US5 could transform tracking of COVID-19 in countries which continue to face challenges especially as it relates to testing, contact tracing, inadequate healthcare personnel and laboratories.
It is well known that lengthy gaps between taking a test and receiving a result have hampered many countries’ attempts to control the spread of coronavirus. According to the BBC report, in some countries with high infection rates, including India and Mexico, experts have said that low testing rates are disguising the true spread of their outbreaks.
According to a recent BBC report, drugs manufacturers Abbott and SD Biosensor have agreed with the charitable Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce 120 million of the tests over six months. The deal covers 133 countries, including many in Latin America which is currently the region hardest-hit by the pandemic in terms of fatality and infection rates.
During a media conference on Monday, Director General of WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus referred to this latest development as a major milestone as it will significantly boost the testing capacity of countries.
The WHO head explained that the “new, highly portable and easy-to-use test” will provide results in 15-30 minutes instead of hours or days.
This is indeed a groundbreaking move which will boost the capacity of poor countries in tackling the virus, especially the ones with high transmission rates. It will also enable the expansion of testing, particularly in hard-to-reach areas that do not have laboratory facilities or enough trained health workers to carry out tests.
From the initial stages of the virus, the testing capacity of countries was very poor. In some poor countries, due to the inadequate supply of testing kits, testing was reserved for seriously ill patients in hospital and for certain key workers who are on the frontline such as health care workers, transportation providers, law enforcement officials and so on. This meant that even if you develop mild symptoms, you would not have been able to be tested for COVID-19 unless you were seriously ill.
This of course led to many who had contracted the virus, including those who were asymptomatic, to pass it on to others.
In Guyana’s case, when the virus was first discovered, there was very limited testing. That has changed as testing has since been ramped up.
There are two main reasons for testing people early – to have individual diagnosis, and to determine how far the virus has spread so that the authorities could isolate and track those persons who may have come into contact with someone who was tested positive before other are infected.
Further, information garnered from testing could also be very useful in helping health care partners plan to deal with the demand for intensive care units and other critical medical supplies.
Certainly, no one ever imagined dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude and certainly no country was prepared to give the kind of response that is needed in such a situation.
There are worrying signs that some countries which were seen as making progress in reversing the spread of the virus are now reporting many new cases and deaths.
From what we are seeing, the pandemic is far from being over. With a vaccine to stop the virus in its tracks not being readily available as yet, it is necessary that health partners and governments continue to expand testing and contact tracing so as to get a handle of the virus.
Guyana has seen a spike in cases in recent weeks. As of Monday there were 2787 cases while the death toll stood at 78. The Ministry of Health, along with its partners would need to review its strategy and take all steps necessary to reverse the upward trend in positive cases and fatalities due to the virus.