Antibody test kits to be used as a surveillance tool and cannot replace RT-PCR tests, it says
ICMR has prepared a protocol for the use of the rapid tests, which are not confirmatory tests
A day after it suspended the much-hyped rapid antibody test kits from China, following complaints of faulty results from several states, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said it will assess the scope and extent of utility of the test in field conditions.
India’s apex biomedical research body said it has forwarded a protocol for the rapid antibody test to all states, even as the coronavirus footprint continues to expand across the country.
“It is reiterated that antibody rapid tests are largely to be used as a tool for surveillance. Globally also, utility of this test is evolving and it is currently being used for detecting the formation of antibodies in individuals. These test results are also dependent on field conditions," the Union health ministry said in a statement.
ICMR said these tests cannot replace the RT-PCR test to diagnose covid-19.
“ICMR has assured assistance to collect data from various states to assess the scope and extent of utility of these rapid antibody tests in field conditions, and ICMR shall keep advising the states on a regular basis," said the statement.
States have also been advised to follow the prescribed protocol for these tests and use them for the purposes for which they were meant. “ICMR has prepared the protocol for using the rapid antibody tests for states. It is not a confirmatory test, but a surveillance tool. RT-PCR is the test, which is used to confirm if someone is infected or not. We must understand that," said Prakash Javadekar, minister for environment and information and broadcasting.
As the number of covid-19 cases ballooned to 21,271 on Wednesday with 1,331 fresh cases, and 682 fatalities, states said they were relying on ICMR for the testing kits and their testing plans are suffering due to the issue.
On 2 April, 221 districts had reported covid-19 cases, which increased to 430 districts on Wednesday,according to the health ministry data.
The National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) under ICMR also recently withdrew covid-19 testing kits from some West Bengal laboratories as they were faulty and giving inconclusive results. The West Bengal health department tweeted: “3 types of ICMR supplied COVID-19 test kits & their present status in Bengal: 1. Rapid testing kits -They are being held back on account of poor functioning as per ICMR advisory 2. BGI RT PCR kits -They are being withdrawn as per communication from NICED on 21st Apr... 3. Antigen Kits - Not supplied to hospitals in Bengal. Thus, as on 22nd Apr, WBDHFW has 0 kits supplied from ICMR/NICED which can test a COVID patient as per ICMR recommendations. Assuring that every possible effort is being made to address this situation."
Chhattisgarh health minister T.S. Singh Deo said: “Unless we use rapid testing kits, we will not know what is the extent of the spread and, after ICMR approval, it should be randomized in villages, bazaars and towns."
Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma said testing kits were being provided by ICMR and they had given guidelines on who should be and who should not be tested. “Either ICMR gives us the flexibility, or gives us enough testing kits."
While seven districts in Rajasthan have no cases, six have 100 or more cases, three districts have 40-70 cases and six districts have 20-60 cases. “In such a situation, maximum testing is the only way of going to the bottom of this pandemic," Sharma said.
“As the government decides to open the lockdown, a single asymptotic case in a green district could erase the gains so far. Given this, it will be required to strictly enforce social distancing norms everywhere. As far as major cities are concerned, the relative increase in patients cured in cities like Delhi is encouraging and should help in bringing down the curve of active cases in coming days," said Himanshu Sikka, Lead - Health, Nutrition & WASH, IPE Global, a public health consultancy.
Anuja, Srishti Chaudhary and Leroy Leo contributed to this story.