MIAMI– The Pan American Health Organization on Wednesday urged Latin American countries to start using a new rapid test to detect Covid-19 and said it is conducting a pilot test in remote regions of Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico and Suriname.
He also revealed that he is working together with the Venezuelan authorities to take the new test to areas that cannot easily access the laboratory tests.
“I am pleased to report that one of these advances has arrived that could change the rules of the game in our region,” said PAHO Director Clarissa Etienne at the organization’s weekly virtual press conference from Washington. “We now have an affordable and reliable diagnostic test that can be performed anywhere,” he added.
The new test, which was approved in September by the World Health Organization, is manufactured by two different companies: one based in Asia and the other based in Europe and the United States. PAHO did not reveal its name or the name of the test, but said that if it is widely distributed it can transform the response to the pandemic.
There are currently two ways of accessing the new tests: through pilot programs and through a PAHO strategic fund in which countries can participate to ensure that they are obtained, in the same way that they already do with some medicines. .
PAHO said it has hundreds of thousands of such tests in its warehouses in Panama and expects millions more to arrive in the coming weeks.
Etienne explained that they are already helping countries to implement new protocols so that health workers know how to use the new diagnostic tests and report their results.
In the case of pilot tests, PAHO will provide the tests free of charge while monitoring their use. The studies will collect information that will help make the most of the new diagnostic tools, the organization said.
“I urge Member States to partner with PAHO to bring these new tests to hospitals and clinics,” Etienne said, but stressed that they do not replace PCR tests, which are the most reliable at this time.
In Latin America, cheap rapid diagnostic tests have been distributed that do not have the endorsement of PAHO, which considers them unreliable. They generally measure the level of antibodies in the blood and therefore do not detect the disease in the early stages.
PCR tests detect the presence of the virus in the body – not antibodies like the others – and are extremely accurate. But because they must be performed in laboratories, their results generally take weeks in hard-to-reach areas such as mountainous regions, deserts and islands. Thus, people who are ill tend to continue with their normal routine while waiting for the results, visiting relatives and using public transport, which helps spread the contagion, according to PAHO.
The new tests allow patients to be quickly isolated and treatments started immediately, Etienne said. Diagnosis can be made in a matter of minutes, rather than days, and at a third of the cost of PCR testing, he explained.
As of Wednesday, more than 10 million cases of the new coronavirus and more than 370,000 deaths have been reported in Latin America, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Science and Systems Engineering.