By Orville Williams
“PAHO does not recommend self-testing.” That’s the word from Dr Ciro Ugarte, Director of Health Emergencies at the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), as Antigua and Barbuda takes further steps to emphasise the importance of personal responsibility in managing Covid-19.
The government announced at the start of this month that it was relaxing the rules on the importation of Covid-19 testing kits, to allow residents to purchase their own rapid self-testing kits for personal use.
Previously, the rules only permitted medical professionals and institutions to import rapid antigen testing kits.
The rationale behind the rule change, according to the government, was to alleviate the financial burden on residents who may wish to be tested multiple times, fearing infection.
While admitting that it could be very beneficial to increase the availability of testing in the country, Dr Ugarte said self-testing could end up having a negative impact, by disrupting the monitoring and reporting system.
“It is encouraged to decentralise testing and use new testing strategies based on national conditions. On the other hand, depending on the surveillance strategies implemented, reporting every [Covid] case is required to closely follow the dynamic of the epidemic,” he said.
“That may not be easy if a self-testing strategy is implemented, particularly because it is associated with a condition that the persons who tested positive are stigmatised [and therefore, may choose not to report their results].”
Countries including Guyana, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago have already approved the general use of Covid-19 self-testing kits, whether permanently or temporarily, and some have even gone as far as procuring the testing kits for use in the hospitality sector and other industries that have been hit hard by the virus.
Dr Ugarte admitted that while PAHO does not recommend the use of the self-testing kits, they could prove useful to some countries, based on their specific situations.
He also reminded that laboratory testing remains a key tool in managing the impact of the ongoing pandemic.
“This is a dynamic situation and the strategies might be adapted, depending on the behaviour of the virus and the epidemiological conditions [in some countries].
“In any case, self-care and individual responsibility continue to be the main public health measures…[but] at the same time, good laboratory practices that produce accurate Covid-19 results are key to ensure that laboratory testing benefits the public health response,” he added.
With the announcement, the government also declared that no duties or taxes are to be imposed on the self-testing kits, making testing even more affordable for residents.