Calls for rapid antigen test instructions to be translated amid fears of incorrect use

As Australia transitions from PCR testing to rapid antigen tests, there are concerns that not everyone is being appropriately instructed on how to use them.

High school student Sophia Brach swabs herself for a rapid COVID-19 test

More than 1.5 million Australians come from non-English speaking backgrounds, but instructions for RATs are overwhelmingly in English. Source: Getty

Community leaders say there is a desperate need to translate the instructions of rapid antigen tests into languages other than English, amid fears people may be using them incorrectly and reporting false negatives.

There are growing calls for state and federal governments to ensure instructions about how to use these tests are widely available to people of all backgrounds and in all languages.

More than 1.5 million Australians come from non-English speaking backgrounds and the issue is not isolated to one specific community.

Afghan woman, Fatema Hassib has been struck down with COVID-19, leaving her with body aches, headaches and a sore throat.

She said access to rapid testing has been difficult and expensive but the situation is even tougher for those from non-English speaking backgrounds.

“Every day the rules are changing and it makes it more difficult for people from non-English backgrounds,” Ms Hassib said.

“People from non-English backgrounds and migrants, they don't know how to use the rapid tests and that's why they don't get the right results.”

Ms Hassib said she knows someone who took a rapid test and got the wrong result due to misunderstanding the instructions.

"The next day when she did the PCR test, she got positive results," Ms Hassib said.

"And this is dangerous for everyone."

Dr Vincent Ogu, chair of African Health Australia, is also concerned the instructions may be lost in translation for those who do not have a granular understanding of English.

“We're talking about a procedure… and there is some level of precision involved, otherwise, the result will not be correct,” he told SBS News.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet (centre) speaks to the media during a press conference at South Western Sydney Vaccination Centre in Sydney on 5 January.
Source: Source: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi

“My community, the African community, we're not receiving significant information, if any, regarding the process of doing this.

“It’s not too late to do that.”

Community leader, Dr Basim Alansari worries that some people may be getting false positives due to a limited understanding of how to take the tests.

“We're depending on people doing it in the right manner, because if you don't provide instructions in a safe manner then the percentage of false positives and false negatives are going to be higher,” he said.

How to test yourself for COVID-19 from home

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Friday people can get further advice on the health website but in terms of translation services, Multicultural New South Wales is working on updating resources.

“They can get further advice on the [NSW] Health website but in terms of translation services, Multicultural NSW is working on that as we move through the next phase,” Mr Perrottet said.

A spokesperson for NSW Health told SBS News that "whilst NSW Health can translate information about when to do a RAT, each test kit has specific advice as to how to perform *that* particular RAT". 

"Many of those kits do have language support if you follow a link or scan a QR code," the spokesperson said. 

"NSW Health will be working to ensure that information about what to do with a positive RAT is translated in the near future." 

A spokesperson for the federal Department of Health said it "consults with the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse COVID-19 Health Advisory Group, which includes community leaders, on the development of communication activities and communication resources". 

"Throughout the COVID19 pandemic, the Department of Health has worked closely with the Department of Home Affairs to produce and translate factual information about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines," the spokesperson said. 

"Resources for culturally and linguistically diverse people including information in 63 languages is available on the website. "Work is currently underway to enhance the translated resources available to include translated information about testing or deal with for COVID-19. This resource will be shared widely through Culturally and Linguistically Diverse networks." 

A health worker shows a positive result from a RAT.
Source: AAP

All COVID-19 rapid antigen tests "must meet the minimum requirements to be approved by the TGA", the spokesperson said.

"One of the minimum requirements is the provision of information on labelling and instructions for use that can be easily understood by consumers and usability testing, including taking into consideration, for different population groups."

In-language COVID-19 information a longstanding pandemic issue 

Throughout the pandemic, there have been concerns raised about the information provided to those in-language regarding vaccinations, COVID-19 restrictions and public health advice.

Last August, official COVID-19 information on the federal Department of Health’s website was found to be months out-of-date in a number of languages.

At the time, Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the government’s response when questioned about the delay in Question Time in the House of Representatives.

“We are working with social media, television, we are working with advertising, we are working on multiple different fronts to make sure messages are provided to the culturally and linguistically diverse communities," he said.

"These are updated continuously, we work, in particular with communities to make sure that the language used is accurate.”

Translation errors were also uncovered in official state and federal government messaging last year.

A spokesperson at NSW Health told The Feed back in August there has been a multifaceted engagement and communications campaign with culturally and linguistically diverse groups throughout the pandemic.

The NSW Health spokesperson said this has included engaging with religious and community leaders, outreach work by local health districts to ensure bilingual staff are present at COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics and translated resources in almost 60 languages.

The spokesperson added the campaign has also involved online forums “with 2,500 leading representatives of religious and community groups and bodies, online videos in multiple languages [and]… increased presence on multicultural community radio, print and online channels,” the spokesperson said.

“Interpreters are free and available when requested by those visiting testing clinics and hospitals.”

A NSW Health spokesperson said rapid antigen tests often had brand-specific instructions, and many kits did have language support via a website link or QR code.

"NSW Health will be working to ensure that information about what to do with a positive RAT (rapid antigen test) is translated in the near future," the spokesperson said.

A Department of Health spokesperson said resources for culturally and linguistically diverse people including information in 63 languages is available on the Department's website, and further work is currently underway to enhance this to "include translated information about testing or dealing with COVID-19."

"This resource will be shared widely through culturally and linguistically diverse networks," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said instructions — many of which include images or diagrams — on how to use different types of RATS are available on the Therapeutic Goods Administration's (TGA) website.

These could be "downloaded and then explained by caregivers, community members or others who may be supporting the [RAT] user", the spokesperson said.

"Suppliers of any self test approved by the TGA must also offer a telephone helpline or website support service to provide assistance to consumers about how to correctly use the test, including making sure they get the right amount of specimen and how to interpret the results," they said.

"Information on many of the suppliers' websites includes instructional videos or simple graphical instructions in the correct use and performance of the device."

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s multilingual communities about the latest coronavirus developments. Local and international news and information about COVID-19 and vaccines is available at the SBS Coronavirus Portal in more than 60 languages.

Published 9 January 2022 at 10:05am, updated 9 January 2022 at 8:43pm
By Massilia Aili, Eden Gillespie
Source: SBS News