BARRHEAD - It will take at least a month to do so, but Alberta Health Services (AHS) is working on delivering 250 handheld devices that can test for COVID-19 to health care facilities in rural and remote areas, which would eliminate the logistical challenge of sending out lab samples to larger centres.
According to a news release, AHS has signed a $9.5 million contract with a Canadian technology company called Spartan Bioscience Inc.
The company — which normally specializes in DNA detection technology — is in the late stages of developing a handheld COVID-19 rapid-testing device that can confirm the presence of the virus in less than one hour.
As part of the $9.5 million contract, AHS will receive 250 handheld devices, along with 100,000 testing kits. The idea is to distribute these devices to health care facilities outside of Calgary and Edmonton.
It has not yet been determined what facilities will receive these devices and kits, though the emphasis is on delivering them to rural and remote areas, such as Indigenous communities, where access to major labs can be an issue.
“COVID-19 places significantly increased demand on our lab capacity,” said AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu. “This new technology will supplement our current testing efforts and give AHS the ability to provide timely testing and results to more Albertans in more communities.”
The first shipment of devices and testing kits was supposed to arrive in April. However, it should be noted that Health Canada has yet to approve the use of the rapid test kits, which could take a few weeks. AHS must also validate test protocols and accuracy before the new technology is deployed.
Health minister Tyler Shandro pointed out that Alberta is one of the fastest jurisdictions in the world for testing of COVID-19. Notably, it was the first province in Canada to establish an online assessment tool which helps determine whether someone should be tested for COVID-19.
“However, the threat to the health of all Albertans remains,” said Shandro. “We have recognized a gap in our testing and I am pleased AHS is working swiftly with industry to find ways to ensure rapid testing for the virus is accessible for people in rural and remote communities.”
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