Return to work, family and life more likely with rapid antigenic testing
The use of rapid antigenic tests, including home testing, is by no means new, having been rolled out in Britain, some European countries and Singapore (where vaccination rates and prevalence of l infection are similar to ours).
There is a very real risk that public enthusiasm for testing will wane, especially as more people get vaccinated and want to avoid having to self-isolate while they wait 24 hours for a result.
It could mean missing more weddings, birthdays, and other important family reunions. It would be hard to imagine a young man, tired from nearly two years of confinement, seeing the social contract as fair in this scenario. The alternative to a home test in most cases will be no testing at all.
If our goal is to keep society and the economy open by preventing people from going to hospitals, then we need to provide incentives to use these tests. While cheaper than lab alternatives, we’re still looking at around $ 18- $ 49 per test for supervised testing and around $ 20 per home test (less if purchased in a multi-test pack).
Large companies were prepared to swallow the cost, knowing that the closures would be far more damaging financially. But this presents a dilemma for small and medium-sized businesses that might not be able to afford the additional expense of repeat employee testing.
Governments need to create funding mechanisms to make it affordable for small businesses, or we won’t see the benefits of fewer infectious people in the community and therefore fewer occupied hospital beds.
Tourism, transportation, freight, hospitality and entertainment are examples of industries brought to their knees by COVID-19. They will bring the roaring economy back to where it was, but we must give them confidence by arming them with all the tools at our disposal.
Our own calculations estimate that the cost to governments of providing grants to small businesses for the implementation of rapid antigen testing would be insignificant compared to the cost of closing businesses and potentially larger sectors of the economy. . For example, the cost of supervised testing (by a healthcare professional) per 100 employees, twice a week, would be approximately $ 120,000 over 28 weeks.
The total cost to our economy of closures, leaves, lone employees and primary contacts could reach $ 2.5 million per 100 employees (assuming 11 active cases in the same 28 week period).
This crisis has given us the opportunity to change the way we approach long-term disease management, embracing technology and enabling individuals to make informed decisions for the benefit of society.
Today, in addition to the self-test for COVID-19, point-of-care tests for HbA1c will be reimbursed through the Medicare Benefits Schedule for people living with diabetes. Like London buses, you wait forever and suddenly two arrive at once.
This is real progress, but now is the time to speed up and make point-of-care testing for influenza, respiratory illnesses, hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections and more accessible to the general public.
If there is one thing this pandemic has confirmed, it is that the health of the economy depends on the economy of health. Until last year, Australia has enjoyed three decades of consecutive economic growth. Let’s become the smart country and restore growth to our economy by being innovators in the delivery of health care to keep people from going to hospitals.
Dean Whiting is a clinical biochemist and CEO of Pathology Technology Australia.