Transparency

Social Media Testing of Rapid Antigen Test Kits

Written by – I. K. Prabha

Except to the currently launched PCR tests used to diagnose Covid-19 virus, the Rapid Antigen Test Kit also can be used to quickly detect the virus. Despite the WHO agreeing to provide 500,000 test kits to Sri Lanka, the news which reports importing of test kits by a private company in Sri Lanka has been talked as well as circulated on social media recently. 

The WHO’s chief medical officer, Tedros Avianomi Grebrias, recently announced the approval of two rapid antibody tests to quickly identify Covid infected patients. The statement is as follows:

“Last week we came to a very important juncture with the approval of a high-quality instant steroid test. Therefore, more fast tests are coming up. I have a good news today. This test takes about 15 to 20 minutes and gives reliable results. It is through a non-complex equipment at a very low cost”

Two companies (SD BioSensor and Abbott and Bio) which produce this method had been approved by the WHO two months earlier. Except the PCR test, the Cabinet of Ministers has decided to launch the rapid antigen test in Sri Lanka (02.11.2020) and a private company has imported 200,000 test kits in a short period of two days before the Technical Evaluation Committee of the Ministry of Health approves the above test in Sri Lanka. This incident casted doubt on transparency. Accurate and misleading news had been created connecting to experts and government parties regarding the test kits imported from the relevant private company. 

“The true story of the test kit…. If I directly answer, this is an emergency import”

“The government did not spend any money to import rapid test kits – all from the private sector”

“The World Health Organization has donated 100,000 test kits to the Ministry of Health”

“30,000 Rapid Antigen Test Kits donated by South Korea to Sri Lanka have been arrived at Katunayake Airport (10.11.2020)”

“It is not possible to bring drugs and health equipment to Sri Lanka without the approval of the Drug Regulatory Authority”

“The National Drug Regulatory Authority is authorized to deal with the importation of drugs and equipment in violation of their standards”

“These test kits are for use in private hospitals only”

“Following the approval of the World Health Organization, the National Drug Regulatory Authority (NDRA) approved the import of this drug to Sri Lanka on October 22”

“As soon as it was approved, the kits were brought to Sri Lanka for use in private hospitals. It is something that happens entirely between a private sector company and private hospitals and has nothing to do with the government”

“The government has also called for a tender to bring in the kits and the tender has not been completed yet. It has not even been decided who will claim the tender”

“There is no connection between the use of Rapid Antigen Test Kits brought to Sri Lanka by the government for government hospitals and the call for tenders”

Among them, the news published on the ‘Sunday Divaina’ newspaper on Sunday 08.11.2020 reading, “A test kit game behind Corona … the heads of the health sector don’t know about the unknown order that came from above!”, was a news that caused a lot of controversy. 

The GMOA is requesting the government by commenting on the Rapid Antigen Test, stating that,

“Speed ​​up the standard testing of these test kits. Experts should tell the country whether this is suitable for the country, or not. After that will it be possible to decide whether these test kits should be imported, or not. But it is heard that some stock has been already imported. I think the Ministry of Health should do a special investigation in this regard. Has the Drug Regulatory Authority recommended it? Was this imported before the end of the quality inspection process? We have heard that it was received the permission. It is also said that a big stock was imported. But this has not been confirmed. A lot of information about this has been revealed on social media. Even the rumors have not been rejected. Why did the Antigen Test suddenly turn into such a big deal? Also, if the antigen test kits have already been brought to Sri Lanka before the end of the quality assurance test, why is that? How much did it cost? We as the Government Medical Officers’ Association consider it is important to expose the transparent details of this entire process including these questions. In order to move forward with the trust of the people, this whole process and operation must take place transparently”. 

(https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3684330198295564&id=1458651987736944)

Despite the Ministry of Health announcing that the quality assurance test will be carried out from next week, social media activists have raised suspicions that it could be a propaganda launched by the chairman of the private company that imported the test kits to Sri Lanka. However, after obtaining the approval of the Director General of Health Services, the relevant test kits will be available for use in public and private hospitals in the country, said Dr. Saman Ratnayake on 11.11.2020. 

According to some social media posts, this private company has received free publicity to sale out the medical equipment due to the public protest against regarding the rapid antibody test kits. It is outstanding that this business and political parties of the government themselves are in the forefront of accusing the government of serious corruption in the importation of such rapid antibody testing kits. 

Many questioned whether a private company importing health equipment in this manner on behalf of the government would have to obtain two years of registration and certification from the health sector, but that the relevant private company was not subject to such a procedure and that these devices had been imported before conducting a sample test to see whether it suits the Sri Lankan scenario. According to the company, it was a transaction between the so-called company and the private hospitals with no involvement with the government. State Minister of Health, Dr. Channa Jayasumane stated in Parliament recently that the registration process was done in due course.

In this way, when conflicting views and opinions spread throughout society, people will naturally tend to struggle with the problematic transparency of the state actions. There is a question for the public as to who is telling the truth. To ensure our fundamental rights to health, economy, politics and the right to information (RTI) in a transparent world, we must be conscious of everyone’s actions, both in the public and private sectors. 

As a developing country, it is the responsibility of the authorities, citizens and the media to safeguard the economic transparency that a country must maintain in achieving its economic goals, including the various decisions taken by the government, the call for tenders, when exporting the country’s wealth, and the receipt of foreign aid.

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The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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