Health Department adds antigen tests to country's official COVID-19 stats

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Department of Health has announced that rapid antigen tests will now be included in the COVID-19 statistics with effect from Tuesday.  

Initially, all COVID-19 positive cases were diagnosed through the “gold standard” of a laboratory-confirmed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

However, since the approval of rapid antigen tests by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) last year, healthcare professionals have increasingly used them.

“These rapid antigen tests have been offered across the country in both the private and public sector and through the mobile laboratories of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) across the country,” the department said.

According to the department, antigen tests provide easier access to testing and provide results within 15 to 20 minutes.

In addition, multiple manufacturers are now producing and using them for testing in line with SAHPRA’s approval.

“The country’s COVID-19 surveillance data is premised on capturing laboratory-confirmed case data of both the PCR and rapid COVID-19 antigen test,” the department explained. 

Through ongoing efforts to ensure the best available surveillance data for decision-making, the department said some COVID-19 antigen tests from various sources have not been incorporated into the laboratory information system. 

“The identification of these additional data are not unusual as data cleaning, quality checks and endeavours for completeness are ongoing processes.”

As of 8 November 2021, the department said it identified about 75 000 antigen tests that need to be captured onto the database. Of these tests, about 20 813 were diagnosed as positive for Coronavirus.

“It is important to note that the retrospective incorporation of these positive cases into the surveillance data will have no impact on case management and follow-up, as the patient is immediately informed of a positive test result,” the department said.

According to the department, there have been extensive engagements with the National Incident Management Team, provinces, NHLS and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and that data have since been included and will reflect on today’s report.

“As we report test data and case numbers for the past 24 hours through our outbreak reporting system, we will observe an increase in a single day, which will create a distortion of the seven-day moving average and an unusual spike on the reporting epidemic curve.”

The department said it remains committed to providing the best available data to both decision-makers and South Africans. –