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Jacobs: St Maarten to be first country in Dutch Caribbean to conduct rapid tests

St. Maarten will be the first country in the Dutch Caribbean to conduct rapid testing, thanks to the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM.

Prime Minister and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Chairperson Silveria Jacobs said she had raised her concerns and the concerns of Members of Parliament (MPs) to the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport VWS and the RIVM about the country not conducting rapid testing, seeing that there are so many positive cases and the 13 deaths thus far registered.

Currently, labs in the Netherlands and Bonaire are carrying out antibody testing, which uses blood to determine whether persons have been infected. As a result of our interest in carrying out rapid testing, St. Maarten will soon be first Dutch Caribbean country to carry out these tests, thanks to the RIVM, Jacobs said during the live virtual Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday.

The test kits being used in the Netherlands have 98 per cent accuracy. RIVM had cautioned St. Maarten about using test kits that may not have this level of accuracy, as they can give many false negatives.

“What is known about rapid testing is that it is just like our PCR [polymerase chain reaction – Ed.] testing – it is taken at a moment in time and at some point, later down, one should also retest to ensure that the results remain accurate.”

Jacobs said the EOC looks forward to receiving the test kits at the local labs to assist St. Maarten in assessing residents’ COVID-19 status.

The EOC also looks forward to assessing the test kits provided by United People’s (UP) party Member of Parliament Omar Ottley, which were donated by community-minded local businesspersons for use in the country to assist in minimising the spread of COVID-19, she added.

She said Ottley’s efforts are appreciated, but made clear that the necessary due diligence will be conducted to ensure that the test kits made available via the MP have the level of accuracy needed to be considered usable in the country.

She said based on advice from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), rapid antibody tests only show if a person had previously had a COVID-19 infection and should not be used for diagnosis of the disease. St. Maarten will continue to use PCR testing for diagnosis to determine whether an individual is currently infected with COVID-19.

“Rapid testing detects presence of antibodies in blood of people who believe that they may have been infected with COVID-19. Antibodies are produced several days or weeks after infection of the virus. This also makes it a time sensitive test,” she said, noting that the strength of the antibody response depends on several factors such as age, nutritional factors, severity of the disease, use of certain medication and the existence of other diseases that suppress immune system such as HIV.

Antibody detection may also cross-react with other pathogens, including other human coronaviruses, and may give false positive results. For clinical diagnosis, rapid testing has limited utility.

She said that while WHO and other entities are engaged in investigation to determine whether persons would be infectious after recovery and for how long, St. Maarten will continue to monitor and use all avenues afforded to it to ensure that the population can be safe and that a second wave does not occur.

The Daily Herald.

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