BEHIND THE BERLIN WALL: Ghana’s Covid-19 test

Ghanaian authorities are charging passengers arriving in the country US$150 Covid-19 test. According to reports, at the arrival hall, passengers will be screened at one of the Port Health stations and results of the Covid-19 tests made known to them.

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Ghana has elected to do the so-called Antigen tests. For the sake of transparency and to eliminate any forms of rumourmongering, the Ghanaian authorities should make public the name of the company providing the tests.

What is the antigen test?

Antigen tests have been defined by the WHO as one type of rapid diagnostic test (RDT). It detects the presence of viral proteins (antigens) expressed by the COVID-19 virus in a sample from the respiratory tract of a person. If the target antigen is present in sufficient concentrations in the sample, it will bind to specific antibodies fixed to a paper strip enclosed in a plastic casing and generate a visually detectable signal, typically within 30 minutes. The antigen(s) detected are expressed only when the virus is actively replicating; therefore, such tests are best used to identify acute or early infection.

Are antigen tests such as the one being carried out in Ghana accurate?

What antigen tests gain in speed and ease of use; they lose in accuracy. So, in effect, the tests at Kotoka International Airport are ineffective, costs US$150 per person, for nothing. Not sure why Ghanaian health authorities decided for this test, however, the main selling point of antigen tests are that they are faster and easier to perform.

PCR or polymerase chain reaction tests carried out in countries such as Germany, France, China, and the United States, are not that easier to carry out.

Germany is one of the first countries anywhere to deploy airport testing when the German airline Lufthansa partnered with healthcare firm Centogene to provide PCR tests. The costs for the tests in Germany range from €59 (US$70) and €139 (US$165) at Frankfurt Airport in early July.

Is Ghana’s decision to demand payment for the tests from everyone regardless of country of disembarkation proper?

No, it rather needs a re-think. The intelligent solution would be to exempt those arriving from “non-risk” countries from paying the $150. Those arriving from “non-risk” countries could take the test on a voluntary basis.

Should the Ghana government review its Covid-19 tests at airports?

Yes, and it should also consider reducing the fee of US$150 per person.

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