Why it's difficult for Samoa to attain COVID-19 test kit

The World Health Organisation's (W.H.O.) Representative to Samoa, Dr. Rasul Baghirov, has explained the difficulty in trying to secure a COVID-19 test kit for Samoa.

During an interview with the Samoa Observer, Dr. Baghirov said the test kits distributed by W.H.O. are intended for countries with DCR machines and Samoa does not have one. 

“I don’t know [the exact] 120 countries it was sent to but none of it was sent to Samoa as we don’t have DCR,” he said.

“DCR machine is only one of several things you need to be able to test COVID-19. You need the DCR machine, a test kit [that is shipped by WHO], reagent chemical and swops. 

“There also needs to be an isolation room or facility to place and run the tests and trained people to handle it because these are dangerous materials, the COVID-19.” 

Test results for Samoa’s first eight suspected cases are still being awaited.

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, said the samples have been sent to New Zealand. 

Meanwhile, the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that DCR manufacturers are scaling up orders for the DCR machines. 

Even the United States are struggling to manufacture their own DCR machine, said Dr. Baghirov, because of the high demand across the world.

A story published by the Samoa Observer on Saturday title “Samoa to receive 200 coronavirus testing kits” revealed that China’s Embassy has moved to purchase newly developed kit callable of producing results in less than an hour. 

But Dr. Baghirov said the rapid testing kit reported on the newspaper is not recommended by the W.H.O. 

“It’s [testing method] very different in principle because the DCR machine test actually identity the elements in the genetic materials from the virus and if its positive its 100 percent undeniable that person is infected,” he said. 

“The artefact used in China on its way to Samoa is a different one used to identify antibody particles in the blood. The mechanisms are very different and what we W.H.O. believe this test which is based on antibody may detect other coronavirus maybe reflection of other antibody. 

“We don’t recommend this artefact for the wide view.”

He pointed out there is a surge around the world in developing different tests and machines to detect COVID-19. 

Dr. Baghirov said Samoa can use the rapid testing kit but “you should use things that is proven, that goes through clinical trial…” 

He added he understands Samoa wants to have its own test kit as soon as possible but it takes time to get test results to confirm it when its sent to New Zealand or Melbourne Australia.  

Asked about available facilities in testing the COVID-19 in the Pacific, Dr. Baghirov said countries that have DCR machines are French Polynesia, Fiji, Guam, New Zealand and Hawaii. 

He said the reason why Fiji are able to test the COVID-19 is because they have DCR machine that was used to test malaria.

“Now they have test kit for COVID-19 and can use the DCR machine,” he said. 

Dr. Baghirov said Fiji has an estimate of only 500 testing kit and will have to use it wisely. 

He said he is unaware whether the country has had any measures of using the test kit to share amongst its Pacific neighbours or no due to its limited supply. 

W.H.O. is assisting the Ministry of Health and other donor countries in supplying personal protective equipment for the hospital. 

The organisation is also offering support in the MOH communication section in drafting information and to assistance in health facilities on prevention control. 

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