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 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.