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How India set up its covid-19 testing facilities


New Delhi: India on Sunday overcame the double-headed mark in conducting covid-19 tests, performing more than 6 lakhs tests per day currently.

By doing less than 100 covid-19 tests a day at the start of the covid-19 pandemic in January, the country has been trying for several months now to increase its diagnostic facilities. Covid-19 cases in India on Sunday approached 18 lakhs and deaths affected 38,000.

Although reverse polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) remains the gold standard of covid-19 testing, the government has gradually introduced a number of other testing modalities.

Along with expanding the testing strategy, the government gradually increased the facilities and types of diagnostic kits. The Ministry of Health unions introduced various types of tests such as rapid antigen tests, antibodies, TrueNat and CBNAAT (tuberculosis tests) and antigen. Laboratories at animal and botanical institutes across the country are also being used for covid-19 testing.

India mainly relies on RT-PCR tests which make up over 85% of the tests done for covid-19 confirmation across India, according to ICMR and state data.

RT-PCR requires nasal and throat swabs to directly detect the presence of virus and not antibodies. The rapid antigen detection test also detects the virus rather than the antibodies produced by the body. An antigen refers to any toxin in the body that triggers an immune response. The ICMR approved it for use in control areas and healthcare settings in combination with RT-PCR.

While state health bulletins provide a detailed description of the type and number of tests, the ICMR only collects data on the cumulative number of tests, all inclusive, and the number of tests performed within 24 hours of receiving data from states.

Health is a state entity. States publish the newsletter every day and we receive the data every day. While state data are easily available on websites and daily press bulletins. “There may be a delay in sharing data for test types as the data come in different periods,” said a senior ICMR official.

Public health experts have said the tests have been described gradually, but the increased testing will need to be accompanied by appropriate precautions to reduce the epidemic.

Adult testing determines who is infected or not and preventative measures are taken accordingly … Therefore, testing helps to carry out our various measures to control and prevent infection. “If you do nothing and just keep testing the population, it will not reduce the pandemic,” said Jugal Kishore, professor and director of the community medicine department at Safdarjung Hospital.

In January, India had only one laboratory test for covid-19 at the Indian Medical Research Council National Institute of Virology, Pune.

Tamil Nadu is conducting the highest number of tests in the country followed by Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Currently at UP, we have 32 RT-PCR laboratories. We are also setting up more RT-PCR laboratories at various medical colleges. We also have 14 private RT-PCR laboratories that are doing over RT-PCR 40,000 tests every day, “said Alok Kumar, secretary to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

“We have done 8440 tests per million population so far and we are making sure to increase this to 400 tests per million population,” he said.

ICMR officials said that with its testing capabilities matched with the most advanced countries in the world, Indian institutions have been set up on occasion in an emergency situation. In the coming days, their contributions will be even more sought after as India continues to struggle with the clear and current danger posed by covid-19.

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