The Zimbabwe Senior Hospital Doctors Association (ZSHDA) have once again called on the government to stop the use of rapid diagnostic tests (RDT) saying the tests are ineffective in the fight against Covid-19.
In May 2020, the ZSHDA urged health authorities to discard RDTs on suspected Covid-19 patients arguing the process posed higher risks of spreading the deadly virus.
Experts have described the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test as the standard in testing for coronavirus but it is more costly to undertake and as of August 14, Zimbabwe had conducted only 1 108 PCR tests.
“Reagents and consumables are an expensive and finite resource, therefore, Covid-19 testing cannot be business as usual whether in the public or private sector,” said the senior doctors in a letter to the new Minister of Health and Child Care (Vice President Constantino Chiwenga).
In the letter dated August 11, 2020, the senior doctors said RDTs should no longer be allowed for diagnosis both in public and private laboratories.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Africa CDC only recommended these tests for use in public health surveillance not diagnosis of individual patients. The high false-negative rate may lead to a delayed presentation at health facilities and poorer outcomes,” said the senior doctors.
According to doctors, patients take seven to 12 days to make antibodies and during that period Covid-19 positive people are highly infectious and if tested using the RDT, there is a risk of spreading the virus as the process fails to immediately detect an infected person.
Furthermore, ZSHDA highlighted that a national conversation was needed to guide who should be tested.
“In our view, it is a waste to test everyone. Priority should be given to close contacts as described by WHO, those with risk factors and symptomatic individuals,” said the senior doctors.
The association also underscored that testing at companies must be done on clinical grounds and not to test every employee.
“Random testing of an entire workforce on the basis of one positive co-worker without meeting any definition of contact status is clogging the system for little reward,” ZSHDA said.
“As such the rapid response teams must be increased equipped and incentivised. There is a need for acceleration of the use of technology in contact tracing and telehealth in managing and the monitoring of both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients.”
The senior doctors said the government and private sector must come together to streamline procurement innovative models such as the use of the “Africa medical supplies platform that could be exploited.”
“We are therefore asking for a revisit and an amendment to Statutory Instruments 146 and 174 of 2020 and other Statutory Instruments which set out the national testing strategy as a matter of urgency,” the senior doctor said.