Covid-19: ICMR ban on rapid tests triggers debate on Chinese versus South Korean kits
With the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) suspending rapid tests for two days, a debate has begun over the efficacy of Chinese and South Korean kits.
Some states such as Rajasthan and West Bengal got the Chinese rapid testing kits imported by ICMR, while other states such as Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on their own imported the kits from South Korea.
Rajasthan and West Bengal governments have complained about the efficacy of thousands of Chinese rapid testing kits saying they were giving faulty results after which the ICMR suspended the rapid tests across the country.
On the other hand, the Andhra Pradesh government, which has placed an order for two lakh kits from the South Korean company but received only one lakh kits in the first consignment, has not had complaints so far.
Andhra Pradesh Commissioner of medical and health, Katamneni Bhaskar, said as many as 10,000 samples were tested using the South Korean rapid testing kits on Tuesday and there were no complaints from experts. After testing 10,000 samples on the first day, the state government stopped the tests following ICMR’s orders.
“The tests have been stopped following instructions from the Indian Council of Medical Research. We will resume testing after getting the nod from the ICMR,” he said.
Bhaskar, however, refused to divulge the details of how many of the 10,000 samples tested on Tuesday were positive and negative. “We cannot reveal the details without approval from the ICMR,” he said. Another government official, however, said that most of the test results were negative.
The health commissioner said the rapid antibody tests cannot be entirely relied upon to test whether the person is positive or negative for Covid-19. “It is only a screening test and not the final test to prove whether a person is Covid-19 positive or negative. You cannot take the result of these rapid antibody tests on its face value,” he said.
Bhaskar said the rapid tests have to be done only on the people who have been suffering from Covid-19 related symptoms for at least 10 days. “If we do rapid antibody tests before this 10-day period, there is a possibility that it may give a false negative result. The person might test positive in the RT-PCR (Real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test, which is the authentic test,” he said.
However, the Rajasthan government, which was the first to say no to rapid tests using Chinese kits, said the Chinese kits procured by ICMR gave just 5.4% correct results as against expected efficiency of 90%. “The co- relation between the PCR test and the rapid test should have been 90% but it was only 5.4%,” said Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma.
Dr S Banerjee, head of the medicine department at Jaipur’s SMS hospital, and member of the panel to check efficacy of the rapid testing kits, said if the anti-body test is positive then two bands appear on the test card after a drop of blood is put in the well of the test card. If a single line appears on the card, the test is negative.
“In the tests they conducted, the kit did not show two bands even for (Covid-19) positive patients,” he said.
On Wednesday, West Bengal chief secretary Rajiv Sinha called it “wastage of time” in conducting rapid tests with the kits alleging that the ICMR did not check the veracity of the kits before sending them to the state. West Bengal had got 10,000 rapid testing kits of which 220 were used to conduct tests.
Bhaskar refused to comment on whether Korean kits were superior to Chinese kits.
“We have imported Korean kits and not Chinese kits. So, it is not proper to talk about Chinese kits without using them,” he said. However, special chief secretary (medical and health) K S Jawahar Reddy said recently that the state had preferred importing rapid antibody testing kits from a South Korean company, as there were doubts over Chinese-made kits.
Considering the increase in demand from Indian states, the South Korean company SD Biosensor Healthcare Pvt Limited has set up a kit manufacturing unit in Manesar, Gurugram, having the capacity to churn out five lakh kits, a statement from the Embassy of India in South Korea’s capital Seoul said on Tuesday.
India is importing five lakh kits from South Korea, which is expected to reach India by April end. Some other state governments such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have also placed orders with South Korean firms for rapid testing kits. Rapid testing kits from China have been put on hold for the time-being, said ICMR officials.
There is also a considerable price difference between the kits imported from the two countries. A Rajasthan government official said the cost of a Chinese kit was Rs 600 and a Chhattisgarh government official said they had procured the rapid kit from a South Korean firm for Rs 337 per kit.
(Joydeep Gupta in Kolkata and Ritesh Mishra in Raipur also contributed to this story).