Health officials in Africa stated that the rollout of rapid antigen-based diagnostic tests for COVID-19 could be a “game-changer” for their fight against the novel coronavirus in Africa by significantly boost testing capacity. But it also warned that increased testing could drive up confirmed cases on a continent that has seen them decline or plateauing as case numbers soar in the West.
WHOs regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said that “The widespread use of high-quality rapid testing in Africa can revolutionize the continent’s response to COVID-19 while levelling up to meet the huge testing needs in Africa.” Supposedly these tests are easy to use, cheaper than PCR tests and provide the results in just 15–30 minutes, enabling countries to decentralize testing.
Moeti at an online news conference speaking from Brazzaville, Congo, addressed that the WHO Africa region has seen a downward trend from a daily average of more than 15,000 cases in July which comprising sub-Saharan Africa plus Algeria. She further adds that this has prompted some governments to pull back from their toughest containment measures.
Moeti said authorities can stay a step ahead of COVID-19 by scaling up active case finding in challenging environments, such as crowded urban neighbourhoods and communities in the hinterlands. As countries ease restrictions on movement, some increase in cases is expected, but preventing an exponential rise is absolutely critical,” she said.
Moeti said, most countries in the region conduct the polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests, which limits COVID-19 testing mostly to large cities. Currently the two tests which WHO has approved for emergency use are the “standard Q COVID-19 Antigen Test by SD Biosensor Inc” and the “Panbio COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test Device” manufactured by Abbott. They test for proteins produced by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Globally, 120 million of these tests are being made available to low- and middle-income countries through the ACT-Accelerator which aims to expedite the development, production and availability of promising tests, vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.
WHO recommends that rapid antigen tests should be used in four scenarios: where there is no access to PCR testing, including hard-to-reach areas; to trace the extent of an outbreak; among high-risk groups like health workers, and in areas with widespread community transmission.