- India ramps up testing with pooling sample strategy
- From 3,000 samples earlier to over 21,000 a day
- 2.45 lakh RT PCR tests already done, adequate stocks for over six weeks
- India had ordered 10 lakh kits before situation worsened in the US and Europe.
- Nearly 30 suppliers of RT-PCR kits receive approval
- Roche, Siemens and Altona etc are supplying to India despite local demand and other constraints
Amid criticism that India is not testing enough COVID-19 patients, increased unrest among migrant population in hotspot areas and non-availability of rapid testing kits for mass screening, health authorities maintain the country has adequate supplies for many weeks to test suspected coronavirus patients.
India has already tested a total of 2,44,893 samples from 2,29,426 individuals as on April 14, 9 PM, including 21,635 samples alone on Monday, according to India's premier medical research agency Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
By comparison, only 3,000-5,000 tests were being conducted on an average about ten days ago, say sources.
The country has stored adequate RT-PCR based kits that can last over six weeks. Besides, another instalment of the kits was delivered on Monday, which is far more sufficient to test over a long period of time, said an ICMR spokesperson.
"Besides, 33 lakh RT-PCR based kits will reach any time and orders have been placed for 37 lakh rapid test kits," he said.
Of the 21,635 samples tested on Monday, 18,644 were tested at 166 labs under the ICMR network and 2991 tests at 70 ICMR approved private labs for Covid-19 testing.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had alleged delay in the purchase of testing kits has caused critical shortage of testing equipment and "with just 149 tests per million Indians, we are now in the company of Laos (157), Niger (182) & Honduras (162)".
India had ordered about 10 lakh RT-PCR testing kits before the end of March, well before the situation worsened in the US and Europe. These orders were mainly from multinational companies such as Roche and Thermo Fisher, Siemens, Altona and Seegene and SD Biosensor of South Korea, said sources.
Siemens has already delivered nearly one lakh tests in India. "In the first lot, we have also provided 40,000 tests to ICMR. Further to the 1 lakh tests delivered earlier, nearly 4 lakh tests have been made available against orders in the past two days, and are being distributed to the government and private laboratories approved by the ICMR for COVID-19 testing, across India. We will continue supplies to the best of our abilities," a Siemens India spokesperson told Business Today.
Germany-based Altona claims it has been maintaining supplies inflow into India every week, despite challenges and demand at home and abroad.
"Our normal kits are of sizes that can do 96 tests per kit. Over the past few weeks, we ramped it up to pack sizes that can handle 384 tests per kit. From next week, we hope to receive kits with pack sizes handling 4,800 tests per kit," said a company representative. He said Altona is trying to clear all the backlog of orders by the first week of May.
India has so far approved nearly 30 manufacturers and suppliers of RT-PCR testing kits, and of them domestic companies with indigeneous technology are only Mylab of Pune, Medsource Ozone, Molbio from Goa and Kilpest India of Bhopal. Sources said apart from the multinationals, most of the approved companies in India are acting as selling agents or representatives of companies making such kits from China or Korea having CE/FDA certification.
Notably, National Medical Product Administration (NMPA) of China mandated its approval from April 3 for exports and thus many Chinese manufacturers of rapid test kits were not in a position to supply to India, despite India approving over 60 suppliers.
Meanwhile, the ICMR on Monday put out an advisory on the feasibility of using pooled samples to test for the virus. In the pooling approach, typically five samples are clubbed together and put through the test. If the result is negative, all are cleared but if the result is positive then each of the tests are done individually. The benefit of this method is that the testing capacity increases as more samples can get tested at one go and also helps save the available resources and speed up pace of test as the disease is fast spreading in many hotspot areas. This has been tried out successfully in other countries such as Germany. Testing maximum number of people as done by countries such as South Korea and Singapore is not a practical solution for a country like India, having over 1.3 billion population.
ICMR had conducted a feasibility study of Pool Sampling at the Virus Research & Diagnostic Laboratory (VRDL) at King George's Medical University (KGMU), Lucknow, before introducing it to the States and healthcare workers, said sources.
INDIA CORONAVIRUS TRACKER: BusinessToday.In brings you a daily tracker as coronavirus cases continue to spread. Here is the state-wise data on total cases, fatalities and recoveries in one comprehensive graphic.