One of our staff members started coughing at work. She is vaccinated and also had Covid last year, but we decided not to risk it. So one of us took her to a self-service Covid testing center run by a large pathology company at a private hospital in Cape Town.
We were the only customer. We ask for an antigen test.
Covid antigen tests are precise enough when someone has a high viral load. Unlike PCR tests, which take a day or two because they must be performed in a laboratory, antigen tests give a result in 30 minutes. Are excellent for detecting when someone with Covid is contagious.
Sorry, the nurse on duty told us, you can only get tested if you have a referral from a doctor. This is technically true according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. guidelines but one of us had previously been examined at the same center without any referral.
This is a bureaucratic and unimaginative approach to testing for Covid. South Africa has conducted around 18 million Covid tests. The UK, with a slightly larger population, has conducted 320 million tests. Colombia, with a slightly smaller population, has carried out 26 million tests.
Last week, South Africa conducted an average of about 30,000 tests a day. In our best week of testing, averaged 70,000 a day. That is too little.
Testing is a vital part of the response to the pandemic. We cannot approximate the number of active cases without much more evidence. With more testing, more infected people would know to isolate themselves and would infect fewer people.
The most important part of testing is detecting when people are infectious so they can isolate and reduce the risk of infecting other people. Antigen tests are great for this. Also, if you test negative for an antigen, it probably means that you are not infectious, even if you are still infected.
Finding out where to get a Covid test, whether in the public or private healthcare sector, shouldn’t involve a lengthy internet search (which we did) or a doctor’s referral. It should be simple, accessible and inexpensive.
The drive-in nurse was kind enough to inform us of another unknown site that did not require a doctor’s referral. We managed to find it after asking several people. The antigen test cost R350. This is a standard retail price in South Africa. However, the bulk wholesale price is R130 per test.
In Germany, you can buy antigen tests for home use for less than R20. In the UK they are distributed free of charge. In India, antigen tests are less than R50.
They are charging us too much and we have to try too hard to get tested.
Last week reported that the regulator opposes home testing even though it is now standard in the UK, US and other countries. Some doctors we have talked to support it. Others are nervous about the quality of the tests people will do at home, or whether people will report when they test positive.
Making testing affordable would allow much better detection of Covid at home, work, and school. Even keeping track of positive tests in the national surveillance system could be as simple as sending a photograph of the test and some basic information to a government number.
Home tests are already the norm for HIV or pregnancy and could easily become the norm for Covid-19.
At the very least, pilots should be conducted at home, perhaps in a few towns or a city or two to begin with.
But even if home tests are not adopted, anyone should be able to go to any pharmacy or clinic and quickly get an antigen test, for much less than what we currently pay.
Our staff member tested negative. It took me a couple of hours to figure it out, including a car trip and quite a bit of money. If we had antigen tests in our office, we could have discovered the result for a lot less money in a few minutes.
This article was published for the first time here.
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