Lack of test kits sparks fears of another COVID crisis • No assurance on arrival of new test kits • Nation turns to ‘unreliable’ antigen testing
Another major COVID-19 crisis appears to be on the horizon following revelations that the country has run out of PCR molecular test kits, The Botswana Gazette has established.
A savingram from the National Health Laboratory (NHL) dated 30 January informs key health personnel that rapid antigen testing should now be used in place of the much-preferred molecular testing.
In the savingram, the Head of the National Health Laboratory, Dr Madisa Mine, says the change to rapid antigen testing is compelled by shortage of molecular tests kits at Botswana’s health labs.
There has been a surge in the country’s COVID-19 infections over the past two months during which the deaths from the virus tolled nearly 200 at the time of going to press yesterday (Tuesday).
“I am writing to inform you that we are currently experiencing shortage of robotic tips in our laboratories,” Dr Mine’s savigram reads. “These tips are used in high throughout automated extraction of SARS-COV-2 RNA for molecular testing. With absve situation, and following extended discussions, we came to the conclusion that PCR testing should be rationalised.”
The savingram also states that PCR testing will be reserved for international travellers, VIP testing and emergency situations. It is addressed to the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Health Services Management, the Director Health Services, DHMT Coordinators and hospital superintendents.
It says the rapid tests that are to be resorted to will not be done at the National Health Laboratory but at health facilities around the country. Dr Mine notes that he is not in a position to say how long it will take for PCR test kits to arrive in the country due to a high demand for them worldwide.
Rapid antigen testing has been criticised for unreliability because although it is said to have a 99% accuracy rate, it quickly became notorious for giving false COVID-19 results.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year advised people who show COVID-19 symptoms but test negative with a rapid antigen test to get a PCR test to confirm the results.