ICMR’s testing protocol is practical, but it is running into red tape

| Updated on April 08, 2020 Published on April 07, 2020

It is perhaps time for the ‘national task force’ on the pandemic to bring all decision-makers on to a single panel to thrash out matters expediently

It is perhaps just as well that the Centre has decided to push for intensive testing as part of its post-lockdown strategy to contain the spread of coronavirus. There is a paucity of information on the extent of the spread, to overcome which testing is the best way out. The question now before the top health authorities is how to go about ramping testing facilities quickly, without compromising on reliability. There are two broad testing options available: the RT-PCR (or the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) method and the antibody-based rapid blood test. The Indian Council for Medical Research has said that the latter should be implemented at a community level, in hotspots and congested zones. This makes sense, as the anti-body test can be done with a simple, portable instrument, which gives a result in 15 minutes. This is meant to be followed by a confirmatory RT-PCR test, as it is believed that the antibody test, while being prompt, is not entirely foolproof. However, the RT-PCR tests are dependent on both the quality and quantity of laboratories. The RNA-based testing method can lead to the virus escaping if it is not properly contained, and the question is whether laboratories here have the facilities to deal with it responsibly, without endangering the health of their staff or the public. The ICMR has said that at present a network of about 200 laboratories (136 run by the government and 59 by ‘accredited’ private entities) are doing the RT-PCR tests — at latest count, about 11,000 a day. A jump in referrals is expected, and community testing will have to play a role amidst the infrastructure constraint.

The crux of the problem is that rapid antibody testing has not picked up at all. This is not least because the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) seems to be dragging its feet on issuing a licence to even the seven firms whose technologies have been validated by the National Institute of Virology. The DCGI has also issued a separate list of 28 companies stating that they will be issued license after NIV validation. The delay in issuing the final list of approved companies could hurt the testing outreach programme. It is perhaps time for the ‘national task force’ on the pandemic to bring all decision-makers (such as ICMR, NIV, DCGI) on to a single panel to thrash out matters expediently. Random sampling techniques need to be perfected, as suggested by statisticians and experts, to get a clear idea of the spread of Covid. This will enable optimal use of testing kits, which are likely to be scarce till supply bottlenecks persist.

Covid highlights the importance of ramping up indigenous capacity in testing equipment, pharma ingredients and protective gear. Investments in testing facilities, along with a plan to boost start-ups and public sector capacities, will stand us in good stead to deal with pandemics.

Published on April 07, 2020

A letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

The coronavirus crisis has changed the world completely in the last few months. All of us have been locked into our homes, economic activity has come to a near standstill. Everyone has been impacted.

Including your favourite business and financial newspaper. Our printing and distribution chains have been severely disrupted across the country, leaving readers without access to newspapers. Newspaper delivery agents have also been unable to service their customers because of multiple restrictions.

In these difficult times, we, at BusinessLine have been working continuously every day so that you are informed about all the developments – whether on the pandemic, on policy responses, or the impact on the world of business and finance. Our team has been working round the clock to keep track of developments so that you – the reader – gets accurate information and actionable insights so that you can protect your jobs, businesses, finances and investments.

We are trying our best to ensure the newspaper reaches your hands every day. We have also ensured that even if your paper is not delivered, you can access BusinessLine in the e-paper format – just as it appears in print. Our website and apps too, are updated every minute, so that you can access the information you want anywhere, anytime.

But all this comes at a heavy cost. As you are aware, the lockdowns have wiped out almost all our entire revenue stream. Sustaining our quality journalism has become extremely challenging. That we have managed so far is thanks to your support. I thank all our subscribers – print and digital – for your support.

I appeal to all or readers to help us navigate these challenging times and help sustain one of the truly independent and credible voices in the world of Indian journalism. Doing so is easy. You can help us enormously simply by subscribing to our digital or e-paper editions. We offer several affordable subscription plans for our website, which includes Portfolio, our investment advisory section that offers rich investment advice from our highly qualified, in-house Research Bureau, the only such team in the Indian newspaper industry.

A little help from you can make a huge difference to the cause of quality journalism!

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
You have read 1 out of 3 free articles for this week. For full access, please subscribe and get unlimited access to all sections.