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  • From next week you can get a Covid-19 antibody test at Clicks clinics nationwide.
  • The tests cost R199 and deliver results while you wait.
  • But not everyone believes rapid antibody tests - or antibody tests in general - serve much purpose on a consumer level.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider South Africa.

Clicks will soon offer a cheap Covid-19 antibody test at its clinics nationwide, for just R199 - and the results will be available while you wait.

Unlike many other antibody tests currently on the market, these rapid tests do not require blood to be sent to a laboratory for analysis. Instead, much like an HIV finger-prick test, they can produce a result in 15 minutes, and don’t require a visit to a doctor’s office.

Several companies who have received licences to import and distribute these tests in South Africa are pinning their hopes on consumers being curious about the possibility of having unknowingly contracted the virus - but not so curious that they’re willing to visit a doctor, part with a vial of blood, and wait up to two days for the results.

Unlike the widely-used reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, or PCR tests, however, these rapid antibody tests won’t tell you if you have an active case of coronavirus.

“This is not a Covid-19 test. The test is aimed at anyone who suspects they may have contracted the virus, even though they did not show symptoms,” Rachel Wrigglesworth, Clicks chief commercial officer, told Business Insider South Africa. 

Instead, Wrigglesworth says the test is aimed at “consumers [who] are wanting to determine whether they have built up any Covid-19 antibodies”.

There are two main types of antibody tests approved for use by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) - one that requires a vial of blood for processing in a laboratory, and another that delivers results at its point of testing from a drop of blood extracted from a fingertip.

Competing pharmacy group Dis-Chem has opted for the laboratory route, via a partnership with Lancet Laboratories. These tests will produce results within 24 to 48 hours, and cost R380 - nearly double that of the test available at Clicks. 

However, central to the argument between the two types of tests is their sensitivity. 

Those processing antibody tests in labs argue that they produce results that are more accurate than rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs). South Africa’s Department of Health says that RDTs, like the kind used by Clicks, “generally have lower sensitivities than laboratory-based antibody tests”. 

But Clicks’ Wrigglesworth says the test they will be using has 97% accuracy, and was approved by SAHPRA.

The most prominent rapid antibody test available in South Africa is the Orient Gene Covid-19 rapid test kit, imported from China. The first licence to distribute this product was awarded to Johannesburg-based Tip Top Trade, but there are now at least 17 companies officially approved by SAHPRA to distribute these test kits in South Africa. 

An early study by the United States’ National Institutes of Health conducted in April found that this widely-available rapid antibody test “is suitable for assessing previous virus exposure, although negative results may be unreliable during the first weeks after infection”.

Quite what patients do with the information gained from these antibody tests is also still unclear, though. 

Scientists are still trying to establish just how much immunity is achieved following a Covid-19 infection. And the concept of so-called “immunity passports”, which some touted as a way to allow people to safely return to offices or even travel abroad without quarantine, have been watered down by health professionals and organisations, including the WHO

Instead, tests of this kind find most approval when used for serological research purposes - and according to the South African Medical Journal, serological tests may be “a useful adjunct to a diagnostic strategy” in this country.

According to a paper released in July by the SAMJ, the sensitivity of these tests can be variable, and timing is important in order to detect either the virus or antibodies. And until there have been more tests in the South African population with regard to development of antibody responses and their ability to protect against reinfection, they may find the most use in a research and public health capacity.

“These tests may, however, be useful in guiding the public health response, providing data for research (including seroprevalence surveys and vaccine initiatives) and development of therapeutic strategies,” the paper says.

The Covid-19 rapid antibody tests will be available at Clicks Clinics nationwide for R199 from 19 October 2020. Customers can book a test with a nurse online at Clicks.co.za.

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