MADRID – European countries have been selling self-test kits in supermarkets or drugstores for a long time. However, this is not the case in Spain. Here, they are sitting in warehouses of pharmacies awaiting the government green light to sell them.
In early March, thousands of Germans got up early to queue for supermarkets belonging to the Aldi chain. They were the first to sell home self-test kits, for €5 each. Moreover, the stock was sold out within minutes. Shortly thereafter, other European countries, such as the Netherlands, France and Portugal followed. They joined the strategy of selling self-diagnostic tests in an effort to multiply the detection rate of those infected. Often the self-tests cost less than a tenner, and as such they are eagerly purchased.
Why are self-tests kits not yet for sale in Spain?
In Spain, however, self-diagnostic tests are still not for sale. This is despite the fact some pharmacies already have them in stock and ready to distribute.
Spain´s first step to join the other countries came in April, when the European Medicines Agency finally approved home tests. However, there is no legal requirement for the sale. The approval of a royal decree amending another decree from the year 2000 that determines which health products for in vitro diagnostics (such as pregnancy tests) may be sold without a prescription.
This essential change, to be able to sell self-diagnostic tests in pharmacies without a prescription, has gone through several procedures. But the final step is still missing. This concerns its approval by the Council of Ministers. Furthermore, over two months have now passed since the decision was put on the table.
The situation has sparked outrage from the pharmaceutical sector towards the government. Luis González, president of the Madrid College of Pharmacists, recalls from the beginning of the crisis pharmacies wanted to be more involved. However, they still feel ignored by the authorities.
Now, the government’s unexplained delay has meant some pharmacies have the tests ready for sale in their branches for weeks. Although as yet, they do not know when they can start selling them.
Speaking to Libertad Digital, González points out that several tests have already been approved by the Agency as they meet the requirements and are awaiting government approval. There are tests to take the sample nasally or saliva tests where the result is known in 15 minutes.
Regarding the delay, Gonzalez reports that the industry does not understand what is going on as pharmacists have been demanding for months that these types of tests can be dispensed in pharmacies.
In Catalonia, too, the situation is described as ‘incomprehensible’. In a statement, the Council of Pharmacists of Catalonia deplored a scenario that “causes insecurity in the population and powerlessness in the pharmaceutical community, which cannot deliver without a prescription an important product to screen the population, isolate positive cases and relieve congestion. in primary care”.
According to one of the pharmacists, people come in or call every day to ask about the tests. Because they want to go to a family reunion or bachelor party and want to know if it is safe to do so. Especially since the measures were recently relaxed everywhere and now – two weeks later – the infection figures are increasing again. It can make a big difference if people are able to take self-tests. Anyone who can check in a simple – and cheap – way whether or not he is infected with the virus, can decide more quickly to stay at home. If you have to go to an official clinic for a test, where you usually pay a higher price, the threshold is also higher for many. As a result, some people omit testing with all the possible negative consequences that entails.
Why are the tests still useful?
While some pharmacists expect, somewhat ironically, that authorisation to sell self-diagnostic tests will come when the pandemic is already over. However, others hope to see the green light given this month. In the latter case, self-tests may be the key to limiting the increase in the number of cases among the unvaccinated.
Overloaded primary care centres
The most repeated complaint in the “fifth wave” news is the collapse of primary care centres. The widespread use of home tests could alleviate that burden. It would also make it easier to use them for screening at meetings or events and an initial, rapid diagnosis in the face of mild symptoms. Which, if positive, should be reported and confirmed by another test with the doctor. But then the person who has tested positive can immediately quarantine and take other measures.
Rapid antigen self-test kits useful
Given the doubts and reluctance that rapid antigen testing still evokes, experts such as Professor Ignacio López Goñi point out that while PCRs are more effective at detecting the virus, rapid antigen testing is effective at locating the infected at the time when they are most contagious. . In that regard, they are especially useful for containing outbreaks.
Although they are expected to be much more expensive in Spain than in other countries and are not intended to be sold elsewhere than in pharmacies, once approved by the government it will be more accessible to do them more often than it is now. case. Whereas, in Germany, tests are already available in some supermarkets for less than a euro.
Usefulness of self-test kits
The bill now awaiting approval also underscores its usefulness. After former health minister Salvador Illa taunted the antigen testing and mass screening and even refused to take one in the TV3 debate with the excuse that he disagreed with this strategy, the Agency recognises the “availability” of home tests “will allow the general population to perform the tests without the intervention of a health professional. This will on the one hand reduce the burden of care on patients to some extent and on the other hand a rapid identification of presumptive positive cases.