Covid-19 diagnosis: India shifts focus back to RT-PCR tests

NEW DELHI: Two weeks after drawing up plans to launch antibody tests on a mass scale, India has shifted its focus back to RT-PCR, the so-called “gold standard” for Covid-19 diagnosis. Senior government officials told ET that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) would not place fresh orders for […]

NEW DELHI: Two weeks after drawing up plans to launch antibody tests on a mass scale, India has shifted its focus back to RT-PCR, the so-called “gold standard” for Covid-19 diagnosis.

Senior government officials told ET that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) would not place fresh orders for antibody rapid test kits. Instead, it has asked manufacturers of RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) kits to ramp up production.

“Right now, we are not thinking about antibody test kits but the plan is to ramp up RT-PCR tests,” said an official.

The ICMR had floated tenders to procure both RT-PCR and antibody test kits. However, the government has decided to go slow on antibody tests, which give faster results, but the accuracy of which has now been questioned.

“Some orders of antibody kits were placed with South Korea and two Indian companies, which are pending. But no fresh orders will be placed,” added the official.

He reiterated that the orders for 2 million test kits with two Chinese firms had been cancelled.

“We have seen that these kits are substandard and are not working. The story is over,” added another official.

Meanwhile, domestic manufacturers of RT-PCR kits have been asked to ramp up production. “Despite limited participation from private laboratories we have been able to conduct 50,000 tests a day. The idea is to scale up these tests to 1,00,000 tests,” he added.

Besides hitting a snag with antibody test kits, public health experts said authorities had failed to provide clear guidance on Covid-19. “A lot of complexities have been introduced by the government, be it rapid testing, plasma therapy and even the use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ),” a public health activist said on the condition of anonymity.

Many activists are of the view that validating HCQ without any evidence was questionable. “A premier health research body gives non-evidence-based recommendation for a drug which has not been tested. Who are making these vague suggestions,” asked another public health activist, on the condition of anonymity.

While several states had started doing plasma therapy on patients, the health ministry on Tuesday warned that there was not enough evidence to support its use for Covid-19 treatment.

In fact, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has been urging those who have recovered from the coronavirus disease to come forward and donate plasma for serious Covid-19 patients. On Sunday about 350 Tablighi Jamaat members who recovered from the infection donated their plasma.

Source Article

Lois C. Ferrara

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