India gets 1 Covid-positive case in 24 tests

Mumbai: In India, 24 people have to be tested to get one positive case, as per the country’s testing criteria, which indicates the prevalence of the disease is not high compared with Italy or Japan, a senior official of the Indian Council of Medical Research said on Thursday. The health ministry and ICMR have been under fire for not carrying out enough tests, which might conceal the true extent of Covid-19’s spread in India.

However, both have defended their approach. On Thursday, the ICMR once again said population-based testing was not the right approach and that the absolute number of tests done are not the way to go when it comes to detecting cases.

In Japan, 11 people need to be tested to find one positive case, while the numbers are 3.4 in Italy and 5.3 in the UK. Compared to these numbers, India is testing enough, said Raman Gangakhedkar, head of epidemiology & communicable diseases at ICMR.

In the past week, the ICMR has tested over 100,000 samples. India’s policy has been to test those “who are most in need”. Meanwhile, cities such as Mumbai — that had broad testing criteria — have changed their strategy. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, which is handling the outbreak in the city (that has reported the highest number of cases in the country) has abandoned the testing of asymptomatic, close contacts of Covid-19 patients to save resources.

“As a country, we are focussing too much on tests,” said Giridhara Babu, an epidemiologist with Public Health Foundation of India. “Testing every contact when resources are limited poses a logistical challenge.”


Six Criteria for Testing

“Given the limited availability of kits, the testing of symptomatic persons should have priority over asymptomatic contacts,” Dr Babu said.

India’s current strategy has six criteria for individuals to get tested. These include: all symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals who travelled internationally in the previous 14 days; all symptomatic contacts of laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 patients; all symptomatic healthcare workers; and, patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (fever with cough and/or shortness of breath).

Also, testing is recommended for people in hotspots/clusters and in evacuee centres. The new criterion added was the testing of all persons displaying influenza-like symptoms (which includes fever, cough, sore throat and runny nose).

“Our effort has always been that we test those who fit our sampling criteria. But if we do a testing that is non-criteria based for a general understanding, then there won’t be a proper utilisation of our available testing kits,” Lav Agrawal, joint secretary in the health ministry, said earlier this week.

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