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The Ghana Health Service (GHS) says the COVID-19 testing system at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) meets all international standards.
It said aside from regular monitoring by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) to ensure that the system was up to standard, the service provider, Frontier Healthcare Services, also had its own internal quality control checks that ensured that results produced were accurate.
The GHS, therefore, insisted that results of the tests could not be fake and described complaints by some arriving passengers challenging the authenticity of the COVID-19 testing results at the KIA as “erroneous impressions”.
Some arriving travellers have taken to social media to pour out their frustrations with what they call “discrepancies in results from the KIA testing regime”.
Most of them stood on the premise that they came in with negative PCR certificates, as required by Ghana’s protocols, but tested positive for COVID-19 at the airport.
In one of the videos that have gone viral, a lady who gave her name as Ms Mavis Boateng made a number of allegations, including presenting a negative PCR test from her country of origin and testing positive on arrival.
She also averred that being a Ghanaian, she expected to be allowed to self-isolate at home or sent to a recovery centre, but was rather sent to a hotel, the M-Plaza, under heavy security escort, where she had to pay heavily for a night’s stay.
Other Ghanaians returning from parts of Africa had made similar complaints shortly before Ms Boateng’s video went viral.
However, in a statement, the GHS provided detailed explanations, noting that the scenario painted by Ms Boateng that it was impossible for her negative result to turn positive within 72 hours was very possible due to the 14-day incubation period of the virus.
It explained that the results of a person were specifically referenced to the date on which the test was conducted and so any risky activity afterwards could change the initial negative status.
On concerns over being quarantined in hotels, instead of isolation centres, the GHS explained that those affected, although originally Ghanaians, came in using international passports, hence they were accorded non-Ghanaian status.
It said while it empathised with people who tested positive at the KIA on arrival and the attendant stress on them, the service was more concerned about the many false reportage making the rounds, especially on social media.
On the whereabouts of the passengers, it said: “The first has been discharged after three days, while the second is due for re-test. The women are citizens of the United Kingdom and the United States of America but are originally Ghanaians.”
The GHS gave an assurance that it had full confidence in the FDA-approved COVID-19 testing system at the KIA and would continue to enforce the regime there.
It reiterated the fact that Ghana, just like all other countries, had its guidelines on COVID-19 management for international travel, and that the guidelines had been circulated through various platforms, including its website, and those of the Ghana Airport Company and the International Air Travel Association Timatic.
It said the guidelines spelt out all requirements for international arrivals in and out of the airport.
Currently, all passengers arriving in Ghana are to have in their possession a negative COVID-19 PCR test result in English from an accredited laboratory in their country of origin.
The tests are to be done not more than 72 hours before the scheduled departure from the country of origin.
All arriving passengers are expected to undergo a compulsory confirmatory test at the KIA. All Ghanaians who test positive are to be sent to isolation centres, while foreigners are to be sent to designated hotels for mandatory quarantine under the supervision of the GHS.
Providing further explanation on his social media handle under the title: “RE: On the Rapid Antigen Test at Kotoka International Airport: The Case of False Positives”, a member of the national COVID-19 Task Force and former Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Bernard Okoe-Boye, said a PCR test was usually considered the “gold standard for identifying the SARS COV-2 virus”.
He said that was because it isolated the genetic material of the virus and magnified it to indicate not just its presence but also its the genomic sequence or map.
Dr Okoe-Boye said those features notwithstanding, a number of factors could result in a false negative PCR test.
“‘False negative’ meaning you get a negative result when actually you should have had a positive (as in a person carrying the virus). If the one taking the sample goes for a throat swab instead of a nasal (pharyngeal) swab, the presence of the virus could be compromised by throat content. Such a sample can end up giving a negative result when, really, the person is positive,” he explained.
Dr Okoe-Boye said in addition to such limiting factors, in the early stages of COVID-19 infection when the viral load was low, false negative rate in PCR testing could be as high as 100 per cent.
He added that not all antigen tests came with the same technology and for that matter its sensitivity also varied.