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Rwanda to start rapid antigen tests for Covid-19

As Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread in the world and claiming lives, Rwanda is embarking on carrying out antigen-based tests to diagnose the virus.

During an event in which Africa Medical Supplier donated testing kits for Covid-19 to the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), officials said that the move will help speed up Covid-19 testing as well as reduce related costs.


The company provided 2,500 antigen Covid-19 test kits, and 2,500 antibody tests. The kits are worth $50,000 (about Rwf47 million) in monetary value.


The event took place on Tuesday, August 18, 2020, at the National Reference Laboratory, in Kigali.


Antibody testing checks your blood by looking for antibodies and reveals whether you were infected with the Covid-19 virus in the past and now have antibodies against the virus.

For antigen tests, they are diagnostic tests which quickly detect fragments of proteins found on or within the virus by testing samples collected from the nasal cavity, or from the respiratory tract of a person.  

Antigen Covid-19 test kits are considered one of the rapid and easy-to-use devices intended to facilitate testing outside of laboratory settings.

Dr. Mwikarago Yvan, Division Manager of the National Reference Laboratory at RBC, said that the antigen test kits will help provide Covid-19 results within 30 minutes, which is a significant stride as the results have been taking seven to eight hours in the current situation.

Rwanda has been evaluating the technology to ascertain whether it works well and can expedite test results for Covid-19.

“It is the first time we are going to use antigen-based rapid Covid-19 tests. The validation we have been carrying out has shown that this kind of test is one of the rapid means we can adopt,” he said.

In April 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) said if any of the antigen detection tests that were under development or commercialised demonstrated adequate performance, they could potentially be used as triage tests to rapidly identify patients who are very likely to have Covid-19, reducing or eliminating the need for expensive molecular confirmatory testing.

Fabrice N. Shema, CEO of Africa medical Supplier said that these test kits will help the Government to rapidly conduct mass screening, which is important in dealing with the pandemic.

“As there is no effective cure for the Covid-19 pandemic yet, what we can do is to test as many people as possible in a short time especially in places where many people meet, such as markets, so that everyone knows their state – whether they are Covid-19 positive or not so as to make informed decisions,” he said.

“If people are trained in how to use such kits, the number of tests can increase to 100,000 per day. That helps devise further preventive measures against the virus when one is not infected with it, and provide timely treatment to the asymptomatic patients for Covid-19,” he said.

Currently, Mwikarago said that the country has the capacity to perform up to 5,000 Covid-19 tests per day by using PCR technology.

He indicated that the country will use the new kits and continue to assess their performance to ensure their effectiveness.

“If we find that they are providing rapid and reliable results, we will procure others such that we can use them countrywide,” he said.

Reducing costs

In May 2020 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) authorised first antigen test to help in the rapid detection of the virus that causes Covid-19. 

It said that antigen tests are also important in the overall response against Covid-19 as they can generally be produced at a lower cost than Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

PCR tests is a molecular diagnostic testing technique that detects the genetic material from the virus and can help diagnose an active Covid-19 infection.

Currently, a person has to pay $50 (about Rwf47,000) to be tested for Covid-19 in Rwanda, as per information from RBC.

Shema said that the new kits could help lower the fee paid for getting Covid-19 results.

“Based on the estimates that have been made, the cost could be $10 (about Rwf9,500) per Covid-19 test. But, that fee might even be reduced based on negotiations,” he said.

Rwanda's tally of Covid-19 confirmed cases was 2,540 as of August 17, 2020, while 8 people died from the disease, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

The country has carried out 338,288 Covid-19 sample tests since mid-March when the first case was identified, representing 2.7 percent of the population which was estimated to more than 12.3 million in 2019 as per figures from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda.

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