The Ministry of Health is considering adding two other testing methods to its COVID-19 response plan.
Currently, Uganda is using the Polymerase Chain Reaction where swabs are used to detect viruses from the nose or throat as recommended by the World Health Organization-WHO.
However, due to the nature of the disease, virologists and government are planning to introduce faster testing methods.
The tests will be Rapid Diagnostic Tests-RDT in nature and two tests are being tested. The antigen test works by detecting the protein of the COVID-19 virus in body fluids like blood. The antibody test detects for antibodies produced by the white blood cells of an infected person during the infection.
According to doctors, the new tests will improve the country’s testing capacity and will give the ministry a better picture of how widespread the disease was in the country.
Dr Misaki Wayrengera, a virologist and an epidemiologist on the national task force says that the government is going to use new RDT tests because they are faster and better for research.
According to Dr Wayengera, the health ministry will carry out initial testing of the RDTs using blood samples that have been taken from confirmed cases of COVID-19 that have completed treatment and are declared COVID-19 free.
Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute says that the some of the new tests like the antibodies test will be used by the health ministry to determine who many people have ever suffered from the disease.
Prof Kaleebu says that the antibody tests will be ideal for the 18000 travellers that the health ministry is currently looking for. According to the health ministry, so far over 100 travellers have been identified.
Despite the reduced period of testing, WHO cautioned countries on using the antibody COVID-19 RDT tests saying that they are not as reliable as the nasal and throat swabs. Several tests are being developed by researchers to test for the disease.
Dr Ryan Michael says that the most reliable test that will control the spread of the disease are PCR tests.
Dr Ryan says that while antibodies can help know the number of people who have suffered from the disease, they cannot control the spread of the disease since they are most effective when persons have already cured.
According to WHO, the antibody and antigen tests should not be used to test for active COVID-19 cases but rather for research purposes. The health ministry says that they are considering other testing methods because they are cheaper compared to the PCR test that is currently being used. The RDT tests cost Shs 94,000 compared to Shs 244,400 for PCR tests that are currently used.