New Delhi: India on Sunday crossed the two-crore mark in conducting covid-19 tests, conducting more than 6 lakhs tests per day currently.
Doing less than 100 covid-19 tests per day at the onset of covid-19 pandemic in January, the country has been striving for several months now to step up its diagnostic facilities. Covid-19 cases in India on Sunday neared 18 lakhs and deaths touched 38,000.
Even though reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) remains the gold standard of covid-19 testing, the government gradually introduced a range of other testing modalities.
Along with expanding the testing strategy, the government gradually increased facilities and types of diagnostic kits. The union health ministry introduced various types of tests such as rapid antigen tests, antibody, TrueNat and CBNAAT (tuberculosis tests) and antigen. Even labs in animal and botanical institutes across the country are being used for covid-19 testing.
India largely relies on RT-PCR tests which comprise over 85% of tests done for confirming covid-19 across India, as per the ICMR and states data.
RT-PCR requires nasal and throat swabs for directly detecting the presence of the virus rather than antibodies. Rapid antigen detection test also detects virus rather than the antibodies produced by the body. An antigen refers to any toxin in the body that triggers an immune response. ICMR approved it for use in containment zones and healthcare settings in combination with RT-PCR.
While state health bulletins give detailed representation of the kind and number of tests, the ICMR only collates data for cumulative number of tests all inclusive and number of tests done in 24 hours after receiving data from states.
“Health is a state subject. States publish the bulletin daily and we receive the data everyday. While state data is readily available on websites and daily press bulletins. There may be a lag in break up of testing types data as data come at different times," said a senior ICMR official.
Public health experts have said that testing has been ramped up gradually, but increased testing will have to be coupled with adequate precaution for declining the epidemic.
“Increased testing determine who is infected or not and preventive measures are taken accordingly...Therefore, testing helps in carrying our various measures to control and prevent the infection. If you don't do anything and just keep testing the population, this will not decrease the pandemic," said Jugal Kishore, professor and head, department of community medicine, Safdarjung Hospital.
In January, India had only one laboratory testing for covid-19, at the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute of Virology, Pune.
Tamil Nadu is conducting the highest number of tests in the country followed by Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
“Currently in UP, we have 32 RT-PCR laboratories. We are also establishing more RT-PCR labs in various medical colleges. We also have 14 private RT-PCR labs that are doing over RT-PCR 40,000 tests everyday," said Alok Kumar, secretary to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
“We have done 8440 test per million population so far and we are ensuring to increase this to 400 test per million population," he said.
ICMR officials said that with its testing capabilities now matching the most advanced countries in the world, Indian institutions have risen to the occasion in an emergency situation. In the days ahead their contributions will be required even more as India continues to grapple with the clear and present danger posed by covid-19.