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By Elesha George

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The use of advanced technology is expected to tip the scale in the fight against Covid-19 as health officials use modern applied science to help detect and stem the respiratory illness.

The Ministry of Health announced yesterday that it was using two pieces of equipment: one to reduce the amount of time it takes to determine whether an individual has Covid-19, and the other to eliminate traces of any bacteria or viruses left on surfaces.

GeneXpert is a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine which was initially acquired to test for tuberculosis in Antigua and Barbuda almost four years ago, but today its use is deemed imperative to halting the spread of coronavirus.

It is a closed system machine that cuts test result time by more than half, unlike the more labour intensive open system machine currently being used at the local laboratory.

“The beauty about the GeneXpert is that it takes roughly an hour for us to do tests for Covid compared to the three hours it takes on the open system PCR we’ve been using,” said Dr Lester Simon, head of the laboratory at Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC).

The current system can test more than 40 samples but each ingredient must be loaded separately to complete the task which means there is a higher rate of sample contamination.

“Anybody in Antigua and Barbuda who has signs or symptoms even remotely suggestive of Covid-19 can have a world-standard PCR test result from Mount St John’s laboratory in one hour,” Dr Simon said.

“It’s what you may call a closed system PCR, meaning all the ingredients have to be packaged in a cartridge compared to the other machine that we’ve been talking about using – the open system PCR,” he explained.

With the current capacity to simultaneously return three test results within an hour, Dr Simon determined that the technology is much more sophisticated, adding that it is already being used at the hospital.

The second equipment is a small hand-held device that uses replaceable batteries and UV rays to decontaminate surfaces.

The ministries of health and education have already ordered 12 units each, at a cost of US$800 per device.

The health minister said they are to be used in a strategic way under special circumstances.

The Emergency Medical Service operators will use these devices primarily at the airport, at schools and inside government agencies.

Prior to the purchase of the device, cleaners would use a water solution to sanitise surfaces – a task the minister said was very laborious.

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