Abstract: North-west Syria (NWS) is a conflict-affected and unstable area. Due to its limited health infrastructure, accessing advanced COVID-19 testing services is challenging. COVID-19 antigen rapid diagnostic tests (Ag-RDTs) have the potential to overcome this barrier. A pilot project was implemented to introduce Ag-RDTs in NWS, aiming to determine the feasibility, uptake, and results of Ag-RDTs and identify facilitators and barriers to testing with Ag-RDTs. A cross-sectional study design involving secondary analysis of data collected during the project was employed. A local non-governmental organization implemented 25,000 Ag-RDTs that were conducted cross-border by trained community health workers. In total, 27,888 eligible individuals were enrolled, 24,956 (89.5%) consented to test, and 121 (0.5%) were COVID-19-positive. The highest positivity was observed among those with severe COVID-19 symptoms (12.7%), with respiratory illnesses (2.5%), enrolled at hospitals in Afrin (2.5%), and healthcare workers (1.9%). A non-random sample of 236 individuals underwent confirmatory RT-PCR testing. Observed sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values were 80.0%, 96.1%, 91.4%, and 90.3%, respectively. Challenges included obtaining informed consent and conducting confirmatory testing. Ag-RDTs represent a feasible screening/diagnostic tool for COVID-19 infections in NWS, with nearly 90% uptake. Embedding Ag-RDTs into COVID-19 testing and screening strategies would be highly beneficial.
Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases