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LETTER | Regular self-testing should be the new trend

LETTER | Getting vaccinated is the trend in 2021. Social media was filled with posts of #CucukmyAZ and people sharing their vaccination experience and side effects.

No matter how many times I was annoyed watching videos of 'It’s Vaccination Day!' (which is set to the tune of 'For the First Time in Forever' from the movie Frozen,), it was a trend that was certainly welcomed.

This pandemic has been going for 19 months and pandemic fatigue is affecting all of us. Everyone wants their life back.

Vaccination is an essential component for us to get out of this pandemic. According to COVIDNOW website (as of Sept 19), 78.8 percent of the total adult population and 56.5 percent of total the population have been fully vaccinated. Amazing numbers!

Although daily new cases, deaths, and hospitalisation have shown a downward trend, the numbers are still high for us to resume our daily business activities safely.

I’m sure everyone is feeling stressed out because we’ve done our vaccination responsibilities and we’ve done our #Stayathome responsibilities, what else can we do? The answer is testing people. It has always been testing.

As we enter the endemic stage, we need to make sure the outbreak doesn’t happen. With the never-ending new mutations of the virus, it seems to be a herculean task.

However, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organisation Covid-19 technical lead, outlined the steps that need to be taken for us to take control of the virus. These steps include:

  • Increase surge vaccination efforts;
  • Improve surveillance systems;
  • Use tests efficiently;
  • Manage gatherings appropriately;
  • Fix ventilation; and
  • Communicate consistently.

Countries that have controlled the virus well are the countries that have a high rate of testing and low positivity rates.

Although Malaysia has increased its testing capacity with an average of 150,000-200,000 tests per day, our positivity rate remains high (10 percent). The threshold set by WHO for adequate testing is at a five percent positivity rate.

Higher positivity rates mean that more testing should be done, as it suggests that there are more people with the disease in the community who have not been detected yet. If we don’t tackle this, then we will never control the virus.

What can we do?

Unlike last year, accessible and affordable self-test Rapid Test Kits Antigen (RTK-Ag) Saliva are now available.

With high sensitivity and specificity rate, a lot of countries are using it for detection purposes. It is up to us to be responsible and guard the safety of our nation.

By having regular testing, we are taking steps to ensure the safety of our loved ones, especially the high-risk groups like our elderly and children.

As seen during the “Tourism pilot project” of Langkawi, the government is taking steps to encourage testing. We can adapt this step in our daily lives.

Covid-19 is a super-spreading disease. According to Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrews, the important elements for a super-spreader event are “prolonged contact, poor ventilation, [a] highly infectious person, [and] crowding”.

Therefore, here are some suggestions when one should take the RTK-Ag Saliva:

  • Before and after going to a crowded place (especially indoor); and
  • Before and after visiting people in high-risk group

Last week, I was invited as a speaker on ClubHouse for 'When we return to sports: A sharing session', organised by the grassroots sports industry.

To ensure safety of all participants and staffs, I suggested a list of requirements that included RTK-Ag negative, fully vaccinated and asymptomatic participants with a well-ventilated venue. By fulfilling this list, we have mitigated the risk of transmission as best as we can for the people to play safely.

As seen when living with other endemic diseases (like malaria and dengue fever), there is a chance that we may contract the disease in the future, despite our vaccination status.

Our prognosis of surviving is better if and when we are vaccinated. So, it’s best to be vaccinated. The key is early detection, isolation, and treatment.

What can the government do?

Currently, the ceiling price of the RTK-Ag is RM19.90. From my personal experience of buying the RTK-Ag kit from a pharmacy, it was only RM16.50. According to my colleague in the UK, it’s around £3, which is equivalent to RM17. Kudos to the government for bringing the price down.

However, if we want to encourage regular testing, the price of the RTK-Ag needs to be more affordable. According to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, they are “exploring bulk purchase options to drive the price down further and also looking at providing free kits for B40 families”. A welcoming move.

Some people are calling for free for all. If the government can repeat the free vaccination scheme with regular testing, then it would be amazing.

However, it would be unrealistic since Covid-19 will be here for a while and the government spending all our money on the test kits would be unwise.

Driving down the prices and encouraging regular testing should be one of the main focuses during Budget 2021. Here are some suggestions:

  • Subsidise local manufacturing of RTK-Ag Saliva;
  • Introduce tax reduction; and
  • Introduce incentives programmes on regular testing.

Another suggestion is to mandate regular testing for the unvaccinated. Either you can’t be vaccinated, or you choose to not to vaccinate, regular testing will not only protect others, but it will, especially, protect yourself.

Self-testing may seem daunting, at first. It is a fear that we need to overcome to preserve our journey back to normalcy. So, buy those self-test kits, follow the procedure, and wait for the result.

Negative or positive, report it in your MySejahtera application. Post the result on your social media and encourage others to go for regular self-testing. This is the trend that needs to be picked up for us to end this pandemic.

I would like to conclude with a John F Kennedy quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” What we can do now for our country is: regular self-testing.

AZIM HAZIZUSSIN NASARUDDIN is a medical officer with the Clinical Research Centre, Ministry of Health.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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