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Genetic COVID-19 tests ordered for Samoa

The Health Specialist Centre in Moto’otua is expecting 500 COVID-19 tests to arrive in Samoa in the coming months to use in its GeneXpert machine only installed in December.

Last month, the American Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) urgently approved Cepheid, the company that makes GeneXpert machines, to make tests for COVID-19. 

This means countries like Samoa that have this machine can accurately and quickly test for the new virus.

On March 24, the clinic approached Meddent, Papua New Guinea based supplier for the test cartridges which is looking to supply the region with these tests. 

The Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital also has two GeneXpert machines and will be able to process tests. 

The Ministry of Health has not said whether it has already ordered tests and how many.

Aiono Dr. Alec Ekeroma, who founded the Health Specialist Centre, said the GeneXpert machine was imported in December, and has been set up by bioengineers and is ready to go.

Once the tests arrive, the public will be informed, he said. 

Le Mamea Dr. Limbo Fiu, who practices from the Health Specialist Centre, said for now they will only test people who display a high fever, dry cough and have a history of travel.

“We can’t test everyone with a sniffle,” he cautioned. “That would not be a prudent use of this scarce resource.”

Meddent has not given the clinic a full quote yet, but Le Mamea predicts each test will cost at least T$50 each, based on the costs of other GeneXpert tests. The clinic is paying for the entire order and freight, he said. 

The Pacific Community (S.P.C.) Public Health Division is also working towards getting Cepheid tests across the region. Though there is no specific date locked in yet, the team expects the Pacific to start getting supplies in a couple of weeks.

Public Health Division Director Dr. Paula Vivili said once these test cartridges are ready, every Pacific Island country will be able to test for COVID-19, where currently only Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea can test.

The rest, like Samoa, have to send swab tests to the closest capable laboratories in New Zealand o Australia in a process that can take up to five days instead of 45 minutes. 

Dr. Vivili said as well as the F.D.A, the cartridges have also been approved by Australia’s regulatory body, the Therapeutic Goods Administration. 

“It is anticipated that the cartridges will be available in a couple of weeks’ time and this is routinely followed up with Cepheid,” he said.

“An order for all Pacific Island countries and territories including Samoa has been placed through the World Health Organisation Western Pacific Regional Office in Manila.”

The Governments of America, Australia and New Zealand, the United Nations Development Programme and the Pacific Islands Health Officers Association are working with the W.H.O. and S.P.C. on this urgent mission.

The test is called Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2, and it is a rapid molecular diagnostic test that looks for SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, in approximately 45 minutes.

At the end of March, Cepheid began shipping their tests to the nearly 5,000 locations with GeneXpert machines in America. GeneXpert machines are used in the region to test for tuberculosis and human papilloma virus (HPV), among other disease. 

Meanwhile, Samoa awaits delivery of orders and donations of rapid antibody tests that identify antibodies in the system of people infected with COVID-19. 

For now, the World Health Organisation has issued caution on the use of antibody tests as they are less reliable than genetic testing for the virus. 

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