The great Covid self-test kit challenge

The great Covid self-test kit challenge

Finally, I got it. No. No, not the coronavirus, at least for now. What I got is an Covid-19 antigen test kit -- a rapid self-test that can provide the result in 30 minutes.

I have always wanted to conduct my own Covid self-test and wondered why the government hasn't provided them for free, or even allowed over-counter sales.

In fact, the government initially banned individuals from conducting self-tests, saying they might lead to confusion; NGOs had asked to use rapid self-test kits to test factory workers but were knocked back.

If the government had allowed Covid self-testing, the enormous workload shouldered by healthcare workers might have been eased; tracing and testing of Covid cases might have been more extensive.

But better late than never. The Ministry of Public Health this month approved the sale of self-test kits at chemists amid signs of collapse in the public healthcare system.

Finally, the ministry's command-control mindset gave way to common sense in which they are now willing to delegate some easy duties to people such as Covid-self testing, and allow home isolation for patients with few symptoms.

Now the antigen test kits are sought after and quickly disappearing from the market.

However, I managed to get an approved kit from my local drugstore.

The kit cost 350 baht. The price is a tad high considering you might have to test yourself more than once and I wonder how low-income workers could afford it at all.

Imagine if you have five people in a family and you need to conduct self-testing about twice a month. Why does the government not provide us with kits for free?

Some of us have bought a Covid vaccine; now we have to pay for a Covid self-test kit!

While buying my test kit, the pharmacist Napa warned me: "Don't try to do it at home. Better ask doctors, nurses or healthcare workers to do it for you. Experienced hands are needed for a Covid test!"

I was shocked. "So why should I buy the self-test kit from your store if I have to go to a doctor to do it?"

Pharmacist Napa looked me in the eyes. "Oh, you think you know how to do it? Yanking in the wrong spot of your nasal cavity induces pain."

I have know pharmacist Napa for years; her well-intentioned warning nevertheless reflects the mindset of many in the medical profession.

Handling Covid is a task for medical experts, not for regular people like you and me.

Last week, a news commentator on Channel Nine discussed the rapid antigen self-tests and said: "I bought self-test kit. But I would not try doing it myself. It looks so difficult. I will get a doctor to do it for me."

With respect, now I understand why the public health system is close to collapse. People depend so much on doctors, to the extent our public healthcare system cannot handle the demand any more.

Now you may wonder how I coped with the test kit. After reading the manual -- which is available in many languages except Thai -- and watching video clips on YouTube, I managed to conduct the test without difficulty and now we are teaching a 14-year-old how to use it.

In brief, it is super-simple to use and gives an accurate result.

A friend has performed a Covid test for her parents, and found out that her 80-year-old mother was infected by Covid.

The family managed to get her into isolation and she received medical treatment in a timely fashion.

The infection within the family was finally contained. Her condition might have worsened had they not found out as quickly as they did.

As the daily Covid case surge passes 13,000 daily without any sign of easing, the country cannot afford to wait for vaccines -- the sought-after mRNA vaccines will arrive in last quarter if at all, which in my opinion might be too late.

By that time the vaccines may have been overpowered by new and stronger Covid variants.

The government must return to testing and tracing, with the only option being to train and enable plain folks like you and me to screen and test for the virus.

So, the government must give free test kits to low-income people and risk groups, especially workers at construction sites, crowded communities and migrant workers.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Commerce should prevent price gouging and collusion and help make self-test kits available and affordable to all.

If the government cannot give the people vaccines in time, at least it can provide free test kits.

Anchalee Kongrut

Editorial pages editor

Anchalee Kongrut is Bangkok Post's editorial pages editor.

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