Coronavirus outbreak: Private lab tests may start next week with Rs 5,000 price cap

Updated on Mar 20, 2020 12:07 PM IST

Wider testing, the experts have maintained, will give a better indication if the disease in the country has entered the dangerous “community transmission” stage.

All 51 labs identified are accredited with the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration of Laboratories (NABL), which sets standards to ensure accuracy, and will add to the 72 government laboratories already testing for Covid-19.(Pratham Gokhale/HT photo for representation)
All 51 labs identified are accredited with the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration of Laboratories (NABL), which sets standards to ensure accuracy, and will add to the 72 government laboratories already testing for Covid-19.(Pratham Gokhale/HT photo for representation)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

India plans to scale up testing for Covid-19 with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) set to give 51 private hospitals and laboratories the go-ahead to start testing for the viral disease, which has so far infected 173 people and killed four.

The testing protocol will remain the same, though, despite many experts asking that it be widened beyond symptomatic individuals who have travelled abroad to a Covid-ravaged country; been exposed, directly or indirectly, to an infected person; and health care workers caring for infected patients.

Wider testing, the experts have maintained, will give a better indication if the disease in the country has entered the dangerous “community transmission” stage.

The price of each test is likely to be capped at around Rs 5,000, a person directly familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. In Delhi-NCR, testing will be available in diagnostics labs at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Medanta-The Medicity and Dr Lal Path Labs, among others, which have the expertise and the infection-control measures needed to diagnose Covid-19.

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All 51 labs identified are accredited with the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration of Laboratories (NABL), which sets standards to ensure accuracy, and will add to the 72 government laboratories already testing for Covid-19.

Another 49 government labs run by government-run institutions such as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Defense Research and Development Organisation will start testing by the end of the week, according to the Union health ministry. That will further add to the country’s testing capacity by taking the total number of laboratories testing for the disease to 172.

“In the first phase, we have identified a set of NABL-accredited private labs that meet the bio-safety and quality criteria laid down for Covid-19 testing. Discussions are on and they have been asked to procure necessary material as the government will only share the virus sequence with them. All the essentials are being put together, and whoever is ready will get the ICMR certification to test,” said Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary, health ministry.

ICMR has mapped the private laboratories to determine their eligibility for quality and safety parameters. “The quality of the laboratory is important because we have to be very sure they aren’t sending out false positives or false negatives, which is why ICMR validation is important,” he added.

The private labs will follow the testing criteria set by ICMR and will have to notify all positive cases to the ministry of health and family welfare.

According to people familiar with the matter, the government could also consider using some private laboratories as collection centres to increase the number of places that can collect samples for testing, while the actual test will happen in a government laboratory.

“We will be happy to work with government and work at the cost fixed by government. The private sector has to ensure there is no transmission at the diagnostic centre. Home sampling, which many labs are doing already, is the best way to avoid crowding, but if the numbers go up, setting up sample collection in an isolated area where one person can go in at a time will be an option,” said Dr Naresh Trehan, chairman, Medanta-The Medicity, which is one of the hospitals in talks with the government for private testing.

“The private sector has worked closely with the government in the past, such as during the H1N1 outbreak and dengue outbreaks, to test more people and save lives,” said Dr Trehan. “We are in the final stages of talks and there is agreement on pricing”.

“Once the government gives a green signal, the laboratories are ready and can start testing within four to five days. A consortium of eight large laboratories including chains such as Dr Lal and SRL together have the capability to do 8,000 to 9,000 tests a day and ramping it up further if need be. Other labs – those that are accredited and have previously tested for H1N1 – may also join in, increasing the capability.” said Dr Harsh Mahajan, founder, Mahajan Imaging, who is not part of the network of labs testing for Covid-19.

India has placed orders for one million testing kits from Germany and a request with WHO for another million probes.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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