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COVID-19: MOH Sets January 2021 For National Roll Out of RDTs

The RDT kits are expected to be a cheaper testing option compared to the PCR tests. Each kit cost Shillings 18,000 (USD 4.9) at the production site. The kits are able to give results within 10-15 minutes from testing. Dr. Nabadda says the quick turnaround time for testing will reduce delays in the release of results currently experienced.
The Health Ministry has set January 2021 for the roll-out of the COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Diagnostic Kits. The ministry intends to use the South Korean Standard Q manufactured by SD Biosensor and Panbio antigen RDT from American firm, Abbot Pharmaceuticals.

The World Health Organisation has recommended the use of both RDTs. Evaluations carried out by the Uganda Virus Research Institute found both kits to be over 80 per cent effective in diagnosing COVID-19. According to the ministry, the kits will be rolled in 24 districts reporting the highest cases of COVID-19.

These include among others Kiryandongo, Kyotera, Buikwe, Kampala, Wakiso,Toronto, Namisindwa, Manafwa, Kapchorwa and Moroto districts. Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the Executive Director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute, says the RDT’s accuracy depends on the viral load of the patient.  

"From what we have seen, the RDTs work best in situations where the viral load is high. People have high viral loads of the disease at the onset of symptoms. If you test with low viral loads, the results might not be accurate," he said. The kits will be used on people who are symptomatic. 

However, a PCR test will also be carried out to confirm the result of the test. At the moment the government has cut down on testing due to financial constraints. Dr, Susan Nabadda, the Executive Director of the Central Public Health Laboratory, says due to issues of low accuracy associated with RDTs, there's no other option but to use both testing methods. 

“The scientists have told us that we need to use these tests cautiously because they are not as effective as PCRs. We have to take caution. But with time, we hope after using it for a while, we will have a better understanding of the kits and maybe will no longer need to carry out two tests," she said.

While the tests will be used to determine the status of patients, scientists, say some groups of people will not be allowed to use them. "Travellers entering the country or departing will have to have a PCR test. We shall not allow them to enter the country or leave because there are so many unknowns," Dr. Isaac Ssewanyana, the Laboratory Director at the Central Public Health Laboratory said.

The second batch of test kits donated by development partners are scheduled to arrive in the country in February 2021. The health ministry says they hope the amounts donated will be enough to continue with the rollout.  The government is also expected to continue procuring more kits.  

The RDT kits are expected to be a cheaper testing option compared to the PCR tests. Each kit cost Shillings 18,000 (USD 4.9) at the production site. The kits are able to give results within 10-15 minutes from testing. Dr. Nabadda says the quick turnaround time for testing will reduce delays in the release of results currently experienced.

“There’ll be no need to transport samples to get results. These RDTs are a point of care test kits and people get their results immediately. There will be no business of waiting for results for days," she said.

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