India has a strong COVID testing system, no need for panic: Dr Gangakhedkar

Asserting that India has  evolved a strong COVID-19 testing regime over the last three months, Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar  from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) today said  the country was now in a position to ramp up tests up to 1.25 lakh a day in government sector, which is one of the best in the world.

“We have expanded the criteria of testing as much as we could.  After starting from scratch three months back, the last test we have done was 72,000 today. This is a significantly high number. We are in a position to ramp up testing up to 1.25 lakh a day, Dr Gangakhedkar, Head of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases at ICMR, said.

He was responding to queries from media persons via Zoom at an online interaction, which was streamed live on Facebook  by Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Kerala, here.

Lauding Kerala’s containment strategy worked on the strength of its robust public healthcare system, he said “Kerala is offering one of the best containment strategies and it is unparalleled . So we will continue to refer to Kerala Model as far as testing and containment strategies are concerned.”

Referring to the general demand for antibody tests, Dr B Ekbal, who heads the expert panel that advises the government on prevention of the coronavirus , said antibody test is not for individual diagnosis of COVID-19, but is employed to probe whether the disease has reached the stage of community transmission.  

“The patient with Covid-19 will have an antibody named IGM, while IGG is the antibody that remains once the patient recovers from the illness. A test can find it out. For that, PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test won’t be a viable option for us to find if there has been community transmission of Covid-19. It also bears the risk of false positivity.”

Across the globe, antibody test is the tool that decides community spread of a disease. For that to be held in Kerala, we need to device statistical modelling. “Also, one has to validate the antibody test by testing the blood sample of the patient who has recovered,” Dr Ekbal said, in reply to a question on the subject.

Recalling that the Indian Council for Medical Research is yet to attest the China-imported equipment for antibody test, the expert said a validation exercise is currently on for three indigenously-developed kits for the purpose. They are ones produced by Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology and by HLL Lifecare bought by the State Medical Services Corporation.

“All the three are ready to market their products. Once they are available, we can make use of them,” Dr Ekbal said. “In fact, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute says it has the capacity to manufacture 75 lakh kits a month, enabling us to even send them to other states.”

Adding to the point, State Health and Family Welfare Secretary Dr Rajan N Khobragade said Kerala will ramp up the testing of the segment through RT-PCR kits, Gene Expression and Truenat besides the extensive surveillance mechanism once the antibody test kits are available. “We have already set up a surveillance mechanism through PCR in a limited way.”

Dr Ekbal attributed cases of test results coming up with false negatives and positives to “rare” instances of human error. “We have conducted as many as 35,660 COVID-19 tests in Kerala. Only two or three of them went wrong. That kind of an average exists even in missions that are less pressing,” he said.

Earlier, Dr Khobragade  said the tests are being carried out in accordance with a certain protocol. “Any minute variation in the process involving swab collection, its transportation and the manner of reception at the lab also may impact test,” he added.

Dr Khobragade also explained how efficiently the government facilitates the flow of communication to the patient about the result of the test for COVID-19.

Dr Rathan U Kelkar IAS,  State Director, National Health Mission, moderated the interaction, which was participated by media persons from different parts of the country.

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