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Avellon Williams 

ANTIGUA & BARBUDA- As Antigua and Barbuda continues to emphasize the need for personal responsibility in managing covid-19, Dr. Ciro Ugarte, Director of Health Emergencies at the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), says “that self-testing is not recommended.”

At the start of this month, the government announced that it would relax restrictions on the importation of Covid-19 testing kits, allowing residents to purchase their own rapid self-testing kits.

Covid-19 self-test kit /Courtesy/

The rules previously only permitted medical professionals and institutions to import rapid antigen testing kits.

In an explanation of why the rule change was instituted, the government stated that it would ease the financial burden on residents who might want to be tested more than once for fear of infection.

While Dr. Ugarte admits that increasing the number of tests available in the country may be beneficial, he also says that self-testing has the potential to have a detrimental impact by disrupting the monitoring and reporting of results.

“It is encouraged to decentralise testing and use new testing strategies based on national conditions. Depending on the surveillance strategies used, reporting every Covid-19 case is necessary to closely follow the dynamics of the epidemic,” he added.

“That may not be easy if a self-testing strategy is implemented, particularly if the persons who test positive are stigmatized [and may decide not to report their results].”

Several countries in the Caribbean, including Guyana, Jamaica, St Vincent, and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago, have already approved the use of Covid-19 self-testing kits, either permanently or temporarily, and some have even purchased these kits for use in the hospitality sector and other industries which have been hard hit by the virus.

PAHO, does not recommend home self-testing kits /Courtesy/

PAHO, according to Dr. Ugarte, does not recommend the use of self-testing kits, yet they may provide some benefits to some countries based on their specific circumstances.

Additionally, he pointed out that laboratory testing remains a key tool for managing the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

“This is a dynamic situation, and based on the behavior of the virus and the epidemiological situation [in some countries], the strategy could be adapted.”

He said that “in any case, self-care and individual responsibility remain the most effective public health measures … [but] at the same time, good laboratory practices that produce accurate Covid-19 results are essential to ensure that lab testing benefits public health.” 

Moreover, the government declared that neither duties nor taxes would be imposed on the self-testing kits, making them more affordable for residents.

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Avellon Williams