New coronavirus rapid diagnostic tests will be game changer: PAHO director

FILE PHOTO: Reagents used in the BOSCH Vivalytic SARS-CoV-2 test, produced by R-Biopharm, are pictured in the production plant of diagnostics provider R-Biopharm in Pfungstadt near Darmstadt, Germany October 8, 2020. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Rapid antigen diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus will be a game changer in the fight against the pandemic, the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) director Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday.

PAHO is helping to roll out hundreds of thousands of these tests in Latin America, especially in more marginalized regions at first, which will allow people with active symptoms to have test results much faster than before, PAHO officials said at a press conference.

“This new diagnostic will allow us to test more people faster and more accurately than ever before, particularly in remote communities without easy access to a laboratory, which have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” said Etienne.

PCR tests remain the gold standard, but because they are performed at laboratories, remote and poorer communities have limited access to them and patients often don’t have the results of these tests for days or even weeks.

“As patients wait for test results, they carry on with their lives, they go to work, they take public transportation and visit family. This means that for days or even weeks they run the risk of infecting their loved ones, their coworkers and their communities,” said Etienne.

But the new rapid tests will allow frontline healthcare workers to diagnose cases within minutes, without the need for a laboratory, and at a third of the cost of traditional PCR tests.

“If distributed widely, this new test will transform our COVID response,” said Etienne.

More than 38.25 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 1,087,361 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

According to PAHO figures in Latin America and the Caribbean there have been more than 18 million COVID-19 cases and over 590,000 deaths.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Adriana Barrera; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum