Delay in test results has Centre, states worried
The health department officials of these states told the Central teams that despite allowing more labs to conduct Covid-19 tests, there was still delay in getting the test results in the absence of automatic extractor machines.Updated: Apr 26, 2020 08:16 IST
A diagnostic result for a Covid-19 test in Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat takes up to five days as compared to a day in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, officials in these states said, admitting that this delay was hampering the fight against the pandemic.
The Central government this week had sent inter-ministerial teams to Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat to suggest measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 cases. The teams have asked the state governments to improve the efficiency of Covid-19 testing labs to reduce the time in getting the results.
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The health department officials of these states told the Central teams that despite allowing more labs to conduct Covid-19 tests, there was still delay in getting the test results in the absence of automatic extractor machines. The officials in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan said that the RNA extraction, a crucial component of the test, was being done manually, thereby delaying the results by at least a day, if not more.
As the number of Covid-19 cases has increased, the state governments began taking more swab samples, without realising the limited capacity of laboratories in these states. Many of these states have now sent samples to laboratories outside the state to get faster test results.
Rajasthan last Tuesday sent around 4,000 samples to Delhi, after there was a delay of four to five days in getting results from the labs in the state. “We had no option as RNA extraction kits were not available. In the majority of our [state government] labs, the RNA test has to be done manually,” said Rohit Kumar Singh, Rajasthan’s additional chief secretary (health).
On Friday, Madhya Pradesh sent about 1,600 samples to a lab in Puducherry after there was a delay of up to six days in getting the results from labs in Nagpur, Mumbai and Noida, a MP government official said. Newly appointed Madhya Pradesh health minister, Narottam Mishra, on Friday urged union health minister, Harsh Vardhan, to instruct labs in Noida and Mumbai to release the tests results early.
Results of about 8,800 tests were pending for the past four days, said an MP government official, who was not willing to be named, adding that the delay was preventing doctors from going ahead with the treatment of thousands of suspected cases. “Without a test, we cannot give any medication and a delay of four to five days can prove fatal for a patient,” said the official quoted above.
MP has 11 labs for conducting Covid tests but only three have automatic extractor machines. State health commissioner, Faiz Ahmad Kidwai, said they have got more automatic RT-PCR machines, which were being installed. “The testing capacity of the state will further increase with these machines functioning and pendency will be almost nil,” he said.
In West Bengal, the average time to get Covid-19 results is three to four days, which has doubled since the first week of April. “Earlier we used to get fewer samples and results would come in one day or two at the most. Now hundreds of samples are coming every day. With a backlog piling up, it takes around three to four days to test samples,” said a senior doctor of a state run testing facility.
The lab has the capacity to test 100 samples every day; it is getting more than 400. “Our technicians are now working in double shifts and we are testing around 130-140 samples per day,” the doctor said, adding that the other 14 labs in West Bengal were labouring under similar pressure. Health secretary, Vivek Kumar, did not respond to phone calls.
In Maharashtra, where the government has conducted over one lakh tests till Friday, the average time to get the results is three to four days even though the state has 49 labs, including 23 private ones.
On April 16, the family of a 36-year-old doctor from Shivaji Nagar died because of Covid-19 and his family got his report on April 17, two days after the samples were taken. Similarly, a 27-year-old woman from Grant Road, who was nine months pregnant, had to wait for four days to get her report from a private laboratory for admission in a hospital for delivery. She gave swab samples on April 11.
State government officials said there was huge pressure on government labs to conduct Covid-19 tests because they are free; private labs charge Rs 4500 for each test. However, private labs claimed that whenever they confirm presence of virus in a patient, the state government gets it rechecked, leading to delay in declaring the Covid-19 test results.
In Uttar Pradesh, officials said they were delivering test results between 24 and 48 hours. “About 85% of the samples are tested in 24 hours. The majority of labs in Uttar Pradesh have maintained the consistency in time taken for testing samples,” said state surveillance officer, Dr Vikasendu Agrawal.
Officials in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh said test results were available within a day.
Arja Sreekanth, Andhra Pradesh nodal officer for Covid-19, said both the pace of testing and time taken to submit results have improved. Between April 7 and 8, only 217 samples were tested and on April 13, around 1,000-1100 tests were done.
“We provide results in seven to eight hours,” he said, adding that till Friday, the nine laboratories in Telangana, on an average, are testing 500 to 600 samples as against the capacity of 1,560 samples a day. In Kerala, test results come within a day, a marked improvement of the state of affairs at the end of March, a state government official said.
In Karnataka, the average the number of tests being conducted per day has gone up from around 500 in the first week of April to nearly 3500 every day on Friday, officials said, adding that the result were coming within 48 hours.
(With inputs from state bureaus)