Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test remains the “gold standard” for detecting coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.
Speaking during the PAHO COVID-19 digital briefing on Wednesday (October 14), she said that while a multitude of diagnostic tests have flooded the market since the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset, citing many of them as “fast” in results turnaround time and “cheap” in terms of affordability, “few have been reliable”.
“That’s why the PCR diagnostic tests, which are highly accurate and must be conducted in lab settings, have remained the gold standard,” Dr. Etienne added.
She pointed out that PAHO has acquired supplies of the new Rapid Antigen Test, which has been validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for distribution to countries globally.
The test has been determined to be revolutionary based on its ability to detect COVID-19 cases within minutes.
The WHO recently announced that 120 million tests, derived from research conducted by two manufacturers, are being initially provided through its Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.
The facility is a groundbreaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
Dr. Etienne indicated that PAHO has already acquired “hundreds of thousands” of the tests through its Strategic Supply Fund.
These, she further indicated, are being stored at PAHO’s regional warehouse in Panama for distribution to member countries, adding that “millions more are expected in the coming weeks”.
The PAHO Director pointed out that the new test is designed to detect specific proteins (antigens) in the virus, and can immediately identify someone who is infected, when administered.
Dr. Etienne said this compares favourably to the antibody test, noting that while the latter also confirms infection, “they are usually negative in the early stages of the disease”.
“This means that rather than taking measures to isolate themselves, someone with COVID-19 could test negative and continue with their normal life, potentially infecting others,” she added.
Dr. Etienne contended, however, that prior to the antigen test’s development, “we could only truly rely on PCR tests”.
While acknowledging that these tests require high-quality samples and sophisticated equipment, she emphasised that they are “hugely reliable”.
“So, while we are very excited about the possibilities that these new Rapid Antigen Tests present, it is important to emphasise that they do not and should not replace PCR testing for COVID-19,” Dr. Etienne added.
She also stressed the need for member countries to bear in mind that “no single innovation is a panacea”, hence the need to “stay the course in every aspect of our COVID-19 response”.
“We must continue to adhere to public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus. We must continue to test and isolate cases and trace their contacts to prevent new infections… and we must continue to let data underpin our actions to prevent any new cases from spreading out of control,” the PAHO Director said.
The region of the Americas had, up to Tuesday (October 13), recorded more than 18 million COVID-19 cases and more than 519,000 deaths.