The Ministry of Health and Wellness has commenced the pilot of antigen testing for the coronavirus (COVID) at nine public health facilities islandwide.
The month-long exercise, which got under way on Monday (November 23), is being conducted at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), Bustamante Hospital for Children, and Comprehensive Health Centre in the Corporate Area; Spanish Town Hospital in St. Catherine; Mandeville Regional Hospital in Manchester; Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) in St. James; and St. Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital in St. Ann.
These are in addition to the National Public Health Laboratory in Kingston, and the National Influenza Centre at the University of the West Indies (UWI), which are mainstay sites for COVID-19 testing in Jamaica.
Health and Wellness Minister, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, said that activities under the pilot will be observed by representatives of some 12 private laboratories, which have been in touch with suppliers to import the test.
He indicated that on completion of the pilot, operators of the private labs will be able to source and administer the test for a fee, while pointing out that the service will be free of cost in designated public health facilities.
“So, we anticipate that within the next month or so, both private and public health facilities will have the test and it will be administered across the country. This will certainly add to the capacity that we have and, of course, add another dimension to [COVID-19] testing,” the Minister said.
He was speaking to journalists following a demonstration of the antigen testing procedure at the Spanish Town Hospital on Wednesday (November 25).
Dr. Tufton said that the antigen test will only be conducted on persons displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
Among the benefits is a faster turnaround time for results, at about 30 minutes, as opposed to the PCR test, which has a longer verification time.
The Health Minister further pointed out that the procedure is being made available to Jamaica through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) at a subsidised cost of between US$5 and US$6 per kit.
Against this background, he expressed the hope that the operators of private laboratories will administer the tests at competitive prices “so that the populace can benefit… from accessing the test, if not in the public system certainly in the private system”.
“I think it’s good for the COVID-19 response and we are happy about that,” Dr. Tufton added.
Meanwhile, Director for the National Laboratory Services in the Ministry, Dr. Michelle Hamilton, advised that the Ministry has acquired some 80,000 antigen test kits for deployment across the public health system, noting that “we have adequate supplies to do what we need to do”.
She also indicated that more than 50 healthcare personnel underwent training in administering the test, adding that all pilot sites have been equipped and staffed.
“We are going to be continuing training because we have to train [personnel in] the private sector. We will [also] be training persons from additional sites within the public sector so that when we are ready to expand our testing, all of these persons will be [ready],” Dr. Hamilton said.
The antigen test has been approved by PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO).