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COVID-19: Dental association leader pushes saliva testing

by Sandy Deane
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President of the Barbados Dental Association Dr Vidya Armogan and other doctors are anxious for Minister of Health Lt Col Jeffrey Bostic to sign off on saliva testing for COVID-19.

Armogan, who recently launched a private safe zone initiative that went into operation at three businesses last Thursday, told Barbados TODAY that this method would be more advantageous to Barbados as it grapples with controlling the latest surge of infections driven by the Delta variant.

“We have had discussions with the Ministry of Health and we have sent in letters asking them to approve the saliva tests, it is not currently on the list of approved Government testing,” Dr Armogan said.

“We have realized that Barbadians prefer a saliva test rather than to have something shove up their noses for tests. We also know that the research is showing that the saliva test is more accurate than the self-administered nasal tests.”

A study by researchers at Canada’s McGill University in January found saliva testing for coronavirus disease is as effective as the standard nasal swab tests. Saliva test kits use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, a molecular test that can detect the coronavirus’s genetic material. PCR tests are considered the most accurate tests for detecting the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibody tests look for whether some may have had COVID-19 in the past.

With Government still finalizing safety zones within the health care sector which includes testing for both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers, Dr Armogan said the saliva tests would prove to be more convenient and cheaper. He proposed that businesses could do the tests in-house by their human resource departments and suggested that it could be easily used in schools to ensure a safe environment.

He said: “It is just a common-sense approach to this problem, moving towards saliva self-testing and moving away from nasal swabs in a self-testing environment. Simply because we can’t prove that the person did it properly. And because they are not as accurate as saliva tests and because Barbadians are opposed to invasive procedures. So, we think that the adoption by the public will be greater.”

A saliva test is likely to cost between $15 to $20, compared to the rapid antigen tests which are being sold for between $70-$100, he said.

“A saliva test is non-invasive, we would be saving a lot of money on gloves we well,” said Dr Armogan. “You sanitise and do the tests, and sanitise when you are done. You don’t need to wear PPE [Personal Protective Equipment and all of that, whereas if we [doctors] are doing the tests, it requires a nurse, or a suitably trained person, gloves, PPE and that runs up costs.”

Dr Armogan is also making a case for medical masks to be introduced.

The dentist reported a positive response to the introduction of safe zones at the Pavao Restaurant, Sweetfield Manor Hotel and Aqua Spa.

He said: “The response has been phenomenal, bookings alone at the Pavao Restaurant are up 25 per cent when I last checked on Thursday for this weekend. We are seeing a lot of people, including suppliers coming to the property adhering to the rules and it is quite interesting that those that were not vaccinated are now understanding that to do business with the hotel they do need to either send staff that is vaccinated or become vaccinated. So I would say it has been working out quite nicely and the response from the public has been quite good.”

He told Barbados TODAY that other businesses have expressed interest in the initiative and one organisation is expected to launch its own safe zone this week.

“We are looking at other partners coming on board,” he said. “I have had small discussions with the [Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association], the board of the [Barbados Private Sector Agency] which as you know includes a lot of people.” (SD)

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