#NASSAU, The Bahamas — November 11, 2020 – Minister of Health the Hon. Renward Wells explained that controlling the transmission of COVID-19 requires a combination of strategies and one part of that strategy is testing.
“The Ministry of Health’s testing protocol is expanding. Although the RT PCR test remains the gold standard in-country to diagnose COVID-19, selected Rapid Antigen Tests are now being incorporated in our protocol to detect an acute infection of COVID-19 in patients who are experiencing symptoms,” Minister Wells said during the COVID-19 Update press conference at the Ministry of Health, Friday, November 6, 2020.
He stated that despite being less sensitive than the RT-PCR test, rapid antigen testing is relatively inexpensive and provides rapid results. This type of testing has the potential to provide wider access to COVID-19 testing at an acceptable turnaround time when there is limited access to RT-PCR testing.
The Minister noted that currently, there are two antigen tests that have been granted World Health Organization Emergency Use Authorization –
- the SD Biosensor; and
- the Abbott PanBIO rapid antigen tests.
“Both these tests have been independently validated and found to have high sensitivity and specificity in symptomatic persons.
“The only drawback is that there are currently no published studies of rapid antigen test performance in asymptomatic populations.”
He said, “The Ministry of Health wishes to advise that any antigen test used in The Bahamas must meet 4 criteria as outlined in the National Protocol. The test should –
- be administered by trained healthcare providers; undergo local validation before use;
- be performed with continuous quality assurance and applicable biosafety precautions; and
- be performed by a facility that has been certified by the Health Care Facilities Board.”
Minister Wells stated to make a COVID-19 test available to a wider cross-section of Bahamians, the Ministry continues to explore other testing strategies.
He explained that the Saliva Test for COVID-19 is an alternative to the current nasal swabbing protocol. The Saliva test is an easy alternative to test symptomatic and asymptomatic persons by RT-PCR.
“This test is a streamlined version of the RT-PCR test. This is because it is –
- cheaper than the currently used swab-based RT-PCR test;
- it does not involve swabbing the nose or throat of people; or
- it does not require viral extraction in the lab.
The Minister said the saliva samples are easily obtained and stored at refrigerator temperature for one week. A swab can only be preserved for three days. This method offers benefits to the Family Islands for easy storage and transport.
He noted that recently, the National COVID-19 Ethics Committee approved the SalivaDirect test to undergo an evaluation, by being piloted within New Providence and selected Family Islands. The study will be targeting asymptomatic persons.
“In this pilot evaluation exercise, consenting participants will be swabbed as normal, and a saliva sample will be obtained at the same time. This way we can compare the results and measure the accuracy of the saliva-based method against the swab method.
“This pilot is anticipated to proceed during November. The National Reference Laboratory will present its findings and recommendations as it relates to the performance of and potential future use of the SalivaDirect Test.”
Minister Wells said, “We hope to be able to utilize the Saliva test to enhance access to testing in the community as well as introduce greater cost efficiencies into the national testing policy in The Bahamas.”
BIS News By Llonella Gilbert