A woman reads the directions for the Abbott Binax Rapid COVID test. (Image courtesy AARP/ABBOTT)

An Opposition MP is calling on Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh MP, to re-think his position on over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 test kits, and instead encourage the use of them in the population, to facilitate quicker testing and determination of those infected with the coronavirus.

At the health ministry’s media briefing on Wednesday, Minister Deyalsingh indicated the possibility of taking to the courts a pharmacy that has been selling OTC COVID test kits.

In an official statement on the issue, Caroni East MP Dr Rishad Seecheran argues that given the fact that T&T has been recording hundreds of new cases almost daily over the past few weeks, employing additional means—such as OTC COVID test kits—to quickly figure out who has COVID would be a good move.

According to Dr Seecheran, such tests kits should be used to augment the country’s COVID-19 testing capability, which is under serious strain, at present.

“We have currently tested 161,000 persons at both public and private facilities. Which is just about 11 percent of our population,” he said.

He added: “Given the very long wait times currently being experienced for COVID-19 test results in the public sector and the increased load on the authorized private labs, the use of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests, should be a welcome addition to our arsenal in combating this surge.”

He notes that the World Health Organization (WHO) urged all countries in March 2020 to test their populations extensively to determine the extent of coronavirus infection.

“The more tests that are conducted, the easier it becomes to track the spread of the virus and reduce transmission,” Dr Seecheran says.  “Testing is important for two reasons. It warns the individual person and allows them to protect their family and loved ones. And it provides surveillance that allows us to find out what we can do about the disease from a public health perspective. This is even more crucial with the new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus now spreading rapidly.”

The Caroni East MP observes that since 15th December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued emergency use authorization for over-the-counter tests for COVID-19, with all major pharmacy chains in the United States currently selling them.  He points to the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test; the Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test; and the Pixel by Labcorp PCR Test Home Collection Kit—all of which do not require a prescription and are intended for use by individuals with or without symptoms.

“By authorizing tests for over the counter and allowing them to be sold in places like drug stores where a patient can buy it, run the test and find out their results in as little as 20 minutes, it would expand citizens access to testing, reducing the burden on laboratories and test supplies, and give our citizens more testing options from the comfort and safety of their own homes,” Dr Seecheran explains.

“Similar to other antigen tests, a small percentage of positive and negative results from this test may be false,” he points out. “Therefore, for patients without symptoms, positive results should be treated as presumptively positive until confirmed by another test as soon as possible. This is especially true if there are fewer infections in a particular community, as false positive results can be more common when antigen tests are used in populations where there is little COVID-19 or low prevalence.”

Dr Seecheran is calling on the health minister “to immediately make available for importation and commercial retail, the use of FDA authorized Over the Counter COVID-19 Testing Kits, to allow citizens the option of not overburdening the public and private laboratory facilities.”