States in a fix as rapid antibody test kits imports are stalled

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on April 15, 2020 Published on April 15, 2020

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Local procurements fail due to pricing issues, lack of supply

States are in a fix over employing resources for large-scale mass testing for Covid-19, as the rapid antibody test kits are yet to arrive, especially from China.

While the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is trying to procure at least 45 test kits for which it floated a techno-commercial offer on April 11, States such as Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Delhi — which were set to start mass surveillance using rapid antibody test kits — have not been able to get their hands on them.

For instance, on April 12, Chhattisgarh cancelled the tender it had earlier floated to buy 75,000 kits due to predatory pricing concerns. “Also, on April 9, the Centre waived custom duty and health cess on imported (medical) items. We were in renegotiations with the firms that had submitted bids to pass on the benefit to us,” said a senior official with the State’s health department.

Chhattisgarh Health Minister TS Singh Deo told BusinessLine re-tendering has been launched with an extended deadline of April 16.

Tamil Nadu’s Health Secretary Beela Rajesh said the State had ordered 4 lakh rapid test kits but it may take a week to arrive. “However, we are continuing with our aggressive testing through the existing RT-PCR (Real Time - Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology and not depending much on rapid test kits,” she added.

According to sources, while Punjab is waiting to receive 2.5 lakh antibody kits, Kerala is also planning to expand surveillance after acquiring up to 2 lakh kits. “The recommendation for expansion of tests has been given in the expert committee report,” said Rajeev Sadanandan, member of the expert committee which submitted the lockdown exit strategy report to Kerala. “The idea is to test in districts where Covid-19 has yet not been reported, as also in areas where cases have been confirmed, for better containment. If States do not expand testing, early gains in containing the virus can be reversed.”

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, too, had announced the procurement of 1 lakh kits but the testing has not begun yet.

ICMR has been raising purchase orders since April 3 for at least 40 lakh kits but has been unable to procure rapid antibody test kits. On April 11, it yet again invited tenders to procure 45 lakh test kits.

The Centre has now shifted gears and issued guidance on conducting pooled RT-PCR tests, which are lab based. On April 13, the ICMR issued an advisory on conducting pooled RT-PCR tests to the increase number of tests for screening which will involve mixing of multiple individual patient specimens, followed by individual testing, if the pool screens positive.

R Gangakhedkar, Head, Infectious Diseases, ICM, said that currently India has RT-PCR kit stocks that can last six weeks. Till date, India has conducted 2,32,902 RT-PCR tests, he said. “We are expecting an additional 33 lakh RT-PCR and 37 lakh rapid antibody kits, which are expected to come at any point of time,” he added.


Published on April 15, 2020

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