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About COVID POCT

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID-19 Point-of-Care (POC) Testing Program enables on-site testing for COVID-19 to occur in remote Australian health services providing care to Indigenous clients. This ground-breaking program uses a device, called the GeneXpert, which detects coronavirus (otherwise known as COVID-19) directly using state-of-the art molecular-based technology and gives an accurate result in just 45 minutes. The program aims to provide access to rapid testing where laboratory-based pathology testing is limited or where significant delays in time to results exist and to improve public health responses, reduced transmission and mortality in these remote Indigenous communities.

Background to the Program

In many remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia, there are significant distances between health services and laboratories. In the same communities, the risk of morbidity and mortality due to COVID-19 is higher due to pre-existing comorbidities and overcrowding, which also makes social distancing practices impractical. Timely detection of COVID-19 in these communities is essential to break the spread of transmission, reduce mortality and avoid unnecessary evacuations.

In mid-April 2020, the Kirby Institute (University of New South Wales) and the Flinders University International Centre for Point-of-Care Testing (ICPOCT) were awarded a grant by the Australian Government Department of Health to manage and implement COVID-19 point-of-care (POC) testing in remote Indigenous communities across Australia, on behalf of the Australian Government.

The new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID-19 Point-of-Care Testing Program utilises the GeneXpert POC testing device (Cepheid Inc), which employs state-of-the-art reverse transcriptase (RT) nucleic acid amplification technology (NAAT) to detect COVID-19 directly and, as such, has close to 100% sensitivity and specificity.  The new TGA-approved Xpert SARS-CoV-2 test cartridge for use on the Xpert platform enables the detection of COVID-19 in 45 minutes, at or close to the point-of-care.

The COVID-19 POC project will leverage from the TTANGO2 (Test, Treat ANd Go) POC testing network for sexually transmitted infections which uses the GeneXpert platform and currently operates in 31 remote communities across WA, NT, Qld and SA (www.ttango.com.au). The majority of existing TTANGO2 sites will take part in the program and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID-19 POC testing network will expand to include up to 54 new sites (making a total of approximately 85 remote health services nationally) which can access COVID-19 POC testing.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID-19 POC testing network in the primary care sector will complement COVID-testing conducted at regional laboratories across Australia and enable reach to remote areas beyond that which the laboratories can service. The COVID-19 program team has worked closely with state jurisdictions, Aboriginal community controlled health organisations and services, and the pathology sector to identify priority sites for the GeneXperts to be placed strategically within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVD-19 POC Testing Program’s remote network.