Harare – The use of antigen rapid diagnostic tests to reinforce COVID-19 response in Zimbabwe has improved, reaching a daily rate of 4,000 tests – a fourfold increase since launch in November 2020.
According to the UN World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 tests were initially done through the standard polymerase chain reaction in a major laboratory in the capital Harare and a few other areas. The rapid diagnosis tests have been distributed to clinics in rural areas and results are received 20–30 minutes (at the minimum), a time reduction from up to one week in certain cases with polymerase chain reaction testing.
“Most of our clinics are able to do tests using the rapid diagnostic test kits,” says Dr Raiva Simbi, the Deputy Director Laboratory Services at the Ministry of Health and Child Care this week. “The advantages of the turn-around time outweigh the supremacy of the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) in terms of technological advancement. We are very happy that we are covering the whole country in terms of diagnosis of COVID-19.”
So far, 600 sites have been set up for rapid diagnostic tests and more than 1,800 health workers across Zimbabwe have been trained in their use.
“Health worker training is on-going to reinforce skills particularly in remote areas with no laboratories or laboratory personnel, increasing testing capacity and coverage. Antigen rapid diagnostic tests detect active SARS- CoV-2 infection and are used as point of care diagnostic tests.
“They detect the COVID-19 viral proteins, specifically the virus antigen. Rapid diagnostic tests are easy to use and do not require a laboratory or expensive equipment,” said WHOin a statement.
WHO recommends that antigen rapid tests be used in four scenarios: in suspected outbreaks where there is no access to PCR testing, including in hard-to-reach areas; to trace the extent of an outbreak where at least one case is detected through polymerase chain reaction, including in closed and semi closed settings such as prisons, schools, care homes; among high-risk groups like health workers; and in areas with widespread community transmission.
Antigen rapid diagnostic tests are also useful in other aspects of COVID-19 prevention and control such as supporting treatment, contact tracing, surveillance and outbreak investigations.
The tests have enabled wide coverage of testing, timely reporting and have “helped us break the (COVID-19) transmission throughout the country,” said Dr Mugabe Muchaneta, a WHO laboratory specialist in Zimbabwe.
“PCR is now well complemented by the (rapid diagnostic tests) and interventions are being done in a timely manner,” added Dr Simbi.