By Hayati Nufus
Indonesia will use a rapid antigen test as an initial screening for COVID-19 cases to accelerate detection and reduce the rate of transmissions, said the Ministry of Health.
Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the ministry's director for prevention and control of direct infectious diseases, said that the antigen test results are more accurate than those of the antibody test, which is faster than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test.
"Hopefully, with rapid antigen tests, we can find positive cases earlier, so that the handling of the pandemic will be better," Tarmizi said on Wednesday.
Tarmizi admitted that the PCR swab test is the best mechanism, but Indonesia has only 620 laboratories and most of them are located in big cities.
It may take a long time for medical personnel living in remote areas to be able to access PCR laboratories. Due to the uneven distribution, there are accumulations of test specimens in laboratories.
"Several regions even have a waiting time for PCR test results for more than a week," Tarmizi added.
As a result, handling COVID-19 patients in Indonesia has become slower, the transmission of the virus is more widespread and the pandemic does not end, according to her.
Currently, the Indonesian government is distributing 2 million antigen rapid test kits throughout the Southeast Asian country with 34 provinces.
The government has also distributed 1.7 million antigen test kits to all areas on the islands of Java and Bali, which are implementing the micro community activity restrictions (micro lockdown) from Feb. 9 to Feb. 22, covering villages and sub-districts by maximizing the role of public health centers as the front guards in handling COVID-19.
Public health centers are the first-level health care facilities in Indonesia.
The case tracing and testing measure with the antigen rapid tests are also expected to be carried out in such public places as markets and offices.
Previously, authorities were only able to conduct contact tracings for five to 10 people. With the antigen rapid test, the government hopes to reach up to 20-30 people.
The results of the antigen tests will be included in the daily updates of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Indonesia.
This acceleration of tracing and testing measures, said Tarmizi, will be carried out along with better treatments and monitoring.
Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia, said that the rapid antigen test has advantages over other types of coronavirus test because it is cheap, and that its results are quite accurate, and not dependent on laboratories.
"The rapid antigen test can solve the problem of the PCR test while the number of laboratories is still very limited," he said.
Moreover, Riono said, the World Health Organization has recommended the use of rapid antigen test to reduce the rate of transmissions of COVID-19 and many countries have applied it.