By Gloridene Hoyte-John
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) should be in a position to begin PCR testing for COVID-19 next week, says Minister of Health, Senator Luke Browne.
“We want to make testing as expansive as possible, and we have a positive development along those lines which suggests that certainly by sometime next week, we might be in a position to have our own machine — our own PCR machine in SVG and start testing,” he told a Ministry of Health press conference in Kingstown on Thursday.
“So perhaps within a week’s time or so, we will be able to commence testing, locally, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines if everything goes according to plan,” the minister said.
He said that in addition to the PCR testing, SVG could perform rapid tests, having received a donation of 3,000 rapid testing kits from Venezuela on April 10.
“Our lab has been carrying out some verification exercises and a report came to Cabinet yesterday (April 22) that the verification exercises show a very positive correspondence between the results of the PCR testing and the result of the rapid testing that we have done.”
Browne explained that the PCR looks for the virus or antigen in the cell whereas the rapid test looks for the antibodies that the body produces to fight the virus.
The minister said that the rapid test is not to replace the PCR test. He disclosed that the World Health Organization (WHO) has not endorsed the rapid testing.
Rapid testing, however, has been approved by regulatory agencies in China and the United Kingdom, he said.
The minister said the rapid tests could be used, generally, to screen targeted communities, groups and even persons who are released from quarantine.
He explained that a person might test positive even after recovery because of the on-going presence of antibodies.
Therefore, the tests can be useful in immunity studies to determine how many persons are in the population with antibodies and who are not vulnerable to infections.
Browne said that this information could also determine when and how to make restrictions based onthe testing strategies.
At present, suspected cases, high-risk groups and persons who satisfy established criteria would be the main focus for testing.
Browne said that the rapid tests should not be done less than seven days after the onset of symptoms.
He explained that it takes a while after the onset of the disease for the body to build up to a level that can be detected by the rapid test.
These antibodies may not appear in the blood for seven to 20 days after infection, the minister said.
The Ministry of Health will continue to rely on PCR testing for diagnosis and medical clearance. “We would use and employ all the weapons in our arsenal in a strategic fashion to protect the health and interest of Vincentians,” Browne said.
SVG has recorded 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases with five having recovered, leaving nine active cases of the respiratory illness.