The Federal Government has announced it will be investing $3.3 million into creating a COVID-19 rapid testing program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote areas.

The Remote Point of Care Testing Program will provide rapid COVID-19 testing facilities to Indigenous people in remote and rural areas and is expected to be rolled out by mid-May.

The test is called Xpert SARS-CoV-2 test and uses a nasal swab and rapid technology to detect COVID-19 infections in their early phases.

Where previous test results have taken up to 10 days to return, the new tests reduce that time to just 45 minutes, enabling those infected to self-isolate before transmission to others can occur.

The new program is part of the Australian Government’s $2.4 billion COVID-19 National Health Plan announced on March 11 by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Once completely rolled out, the 83 testing sites will be placed in the most at-risk or most in-need communities.

Minister Wyatt said Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs), States and Territories have been “actively involved in site selection and assessment” to ensure testing facilities are no longer than two to three hours’ drive from communities.

“An outbreak of COVID-19 in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community has the potential to be very serious. This testing program will help protect Indigenous Australians against the virus,” Minister Wyatt said.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said the program would help Australia stay ahead of the curve and reduce any potential outbreaks.

“It’s vital we do all we can to protect our rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This world-first testing response means we can continue to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to fighting this virus,” Minister Hunt said.

“If an outbreak is detected, local health services can move quickly to protect the community and activate established evacuation procedures.”

“The rollout of [the] program will include funding for the purchase of machines, as well as the logistics, transport, training, software support, quality assurance, data reporting and communications for all 83 sites.”

The testing program was developed by the Kirby Institute and the Flinders University International Centre for Point of Care Testing in close consultation with ACCHSs.

The program’s development took into consideration the vast distance between laboratories and communities, which makes it difficult to have testing conducted.

“For many rural and remote areas, the nearest laboratory currently able to conduct this test is located hundreds of kilometres away, even a plane trip in some cases. The COVID-19 point-of-care technology will bring the laboratory to the community,” said Kirby Institute program development lead, Professor Rebecca Guy.

By Caris Duncan