The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is recommending that member countries prioritise rapid antigen testing for persons experiencing coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms and who are at risk of spreading the virus.
Speaking during PAHO’s weekly digital COVID-19 media briefing on Wednesday (January 19), Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, said the recommendation comes against the background of surging COVID-19 cases across the region, a prevailing testing shortage, and demands for this service, which she notes are “higher than ever”.
“As many countries in our region are also experiencing an active [influenza] season… it’s critical that [they] use tests smartly,” she noted.
The Director added that individuals who are asymptomatic and have or think they have been exposed to COVID-19 should be advised to quarantine, when possible, and follow effective public health measures, including mask wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding large gatherings.
Dr. Etienne also encouraged member countries to scale up their testing regime by leveraging the rapid antigen procedure.
She noted that the procedure does not require specialised training or expensive equipment, pointing out that “they can be deployed to primary health centres, where they can reach more people, closer to home”.
Dr. Etienne assured that PAHO is “doing everything it can” to support the bolstering of countries’ testing capabilities, consequent on the demand and prevailing shortage of the requisite apparatus.
She advised that since the pandemic’s onset, the entity has acquired more than 42 million PCR and rapid antigen test kits for 36 countries through its Strategic Fund.
The Director said PAHO has, thus far, deployed 10 million PCR and 2.8 million rapid diagnostic tests to countries in need.
Additionally, she said since January 2021, the Strategic Fund has purchased 22 million COVID-19 PCR and rapid diagnostic tests for member countries, “and we expect our orders will ramp up this year”.
Dr. Etienne also informed that PAHO has established long-term agreements with two World Health Organization (WHO)-approved manufacturers of COVID 19 tests, “so that we can secure [these] for our region at a fraction of the price”.
“Countries can and should take advantage of these agreements by purchasing diagnostic tests through our Strategic Fund,” she added.
Dr. Etienne said that as the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly, testing capacity across the region will be “limited for some time”.
“That’s why it’s important to remember that testing alone will not overcome this virus. Slowing the spread of COVID-19 will require every tool in our arsenal – vaccines, physical distancing, mask wearing, and testing,” she pointed out.
The Director emphasised that “we need to rely on all these measures to continue to protect ourselves and each other against this virus”.
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