By Aaron Humes: In its weekly press briefing, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne has called on countries to prioritize rapid antigen tests for those with symptoms – who are most at risk of spreading the disease.
She called for countries to “expand testing at the community level to relieve pressure on hospitals, which are working overtime” dealing with 7.2 million new cases in the past week. Rapid antigen tests, which offer a diagnosis in just minutes, do not require specialized equipment or training so, “can be deployed to primary health centers, where they can reach more people closer to home,” the PAHO Director added.
However, there is a shortage of tests and so Dr. Etienne also advised that countries should advise those without symptoms who have been exposed to quarantine where possible and follow public health measures, including social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding large gatherings, and testing
PAHO has been active in building up capacity in 32 regionally networked laboratories, across the Americas to track the virus and detect new variants “so that our region is prepared.”
Since the start of the pandemic, PAHO has acquired more than 42 million molecular RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests for 36 countries, with its own funds and through the PAHO Strategic Fund, a pooled procurement mechanism that offers countries quality-assured medicines and medical devices at affordable prices.
The organization has also deployed 10 million PCR diagnostics and 2.8 million rapid antigen tests from its stockpile to countries in need and has established long-term agreements with two WHO-approved manufacturers of COVID-19 tests to secure these tools for the region at a fraction of the price.
“Countries can and should take advantage of these agreements by purchasing diagnostic tests through our Strategic Fund,” the PAHO Director said.