Soon, lab-on-wheels for Covid-19 testing

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on June 16, 2020

This will be ideal for on spot testing in small towns, villages, slums as well as for airports to test passengers

Centre plans to inaugurate the rapid response mobile lab on Thursday in Delhi

A lab on wheels will soon be ready to conduct spot-testing for Covid-19 in remote villages and slums. The ‘Rapid Response Mobile Laboratory,’ has been developed at Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone (AMTZ).

Health officials said that it is India’s first mobile Covid lab capable of carrying out reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) tests. This will be inaugurated by either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in New Delhi on Thursday.

Sources in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) said that the Bio-Safety Level two (BSL-2) lab with onsite RT-PCR, ELISA and Bio-Chem analysers was conceptualised over a month and built in close to eight days by AMTZ and Indian multinational Transasia Biomedicals.

This will be ideal for spot-testing in small towns, villages, slums as well as for airports. Many districts do not have a BSL-2 lab and these vans can fill that gap, said a senior health official.

Costing around ₹1 crore, the truck used to carry the lab has been fitted with high level suspension by the automakers Bharat Benz, so that it absorbs the shocks on rough roads to protect the equipment. “Each van can be fitted with one to five RT-PCR machines. Each RT-PCR machine can process up to 100 throat and nose swab samples for running DNA-based tests to detect SARS-CoV2 virus that causes Covid-19 with results available within two and a half hours,” the official said.

Apart from this, the lab on wheels is equipped to conduct up to 2,000 ELISA tests a day, used to measure antibodies developed by individuals against the virus, which indicate that those infected may have recovered undiagnosed.

The van is fitted with a clean room, which requires a built-in machine to maintain negative air pressure flow and an air purification system which are crucial to a BSL-2 lab. “It also has a built-in fogging machine which sterilises the insides of the vehicle twice a day. This is important to avoid contamination of samples being tested for Covid-19 in RT-PCR machines. Even the slightest contamination can lead to spoiling of the sample and may fail to yield correct results,” the official stated.

It has yet not been decided how many vans will be deployed across India. Each van will require two technicians and will be equipped with cold storage facility to carry requisite testing kits for up to a week, to facilitate the mobile labs venturing into remote areas and cover long distances.

Published on June 16, 2020

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