Malaysia to boost virus testing with S Korean test kits

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 17, 2020.
Malaysia to boost virus testing with S Korean test kits
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PUTRAJAYA: The ministry of health (MoH) has approved the use of an antigen rapid test kit from South Korea that will help the ministry to achieve its initial target of a maximum capacity of 16,500 Covid-19 tests daily nationwide.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the MoH has already placed an order with South Korean firm SD Biosensor Inc, adding the rapid test kits may arrive as early as next week.

These test kits, he said, have met the ministry’s accuracy requirement with a sensitivity rate of 84.4% and specificity rate of 100%.

“With the antigen rapid test kit, testing can be done at point-of-care. That means you do not need to send the swab test samples to our 43 [laboratories] to get the results,” he said at the ministry’s daily Covid-19 press conference here.

“It can actually be done at our clinics or hospitals. They just need to be equipped with biosafety cabinets,” he added. A biosafety cabinet is an enclosed but ventilated laboratory workspace for safely working with materials contaminated with pathogens.

Dr Noor Hisham had previously said that antigen rapid test kits could return results within 1-2 hours, and that the ministry had, since early this month, been evaluating rapid test kits from various firms from South Korea and China.

Malaysia has so far been relying on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to diagnose the presence of Covid-19, which takes a long period of time as their samples need to be sent to the laboratories.

A PCR test typically takes six hours but because of the large volume of samples to be tested and having to get these samples to the laboratory, such a test can take up to 48 hours before the results can be obtained.

In a bid to reduce the backlog of tests at laboratories, the country has also been using antibody or serology tests that can be done at the bedside as a final check at the end of a 14-day mandatory quarantine period for suspected Covid-19 cases.