Kerala testing rate poor, say health experts; CM denies charges
Kerala, which was the first state in India to report a coronavirus (Covid-19) case in January, has been praised for high recovery and low mortality rates related to the pandemic even as many experts say its testing rate is poor and needs to be ramped up before caseloads shoot up.
The state has done only 58,200 tests in four months and ranks very low in terms of total testing, they said citing official statistics. “It is a fact the state’s test records are very low. It seems it failed to heed periodic warning of experts,” said physician and health activist Sreejith N Kumar.
Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, for instance, have conducted 2, 28, 914 and 4,12, 714 tests until May 27 since reporting their first cases in early March, according to the Union health ministry statistics..
The Indian Medical Association (IMA)’s Kerala chapter on Tuesday wrote a letter to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and urged him to increase the testing or else the state will have to pay a heavy price. “To get a clear picture, at least 100 tests per lakh [100,000] population will have to be done. Other states are way ahead in testing. Testing facilities should be allowed in the private sector also,” the letter said, a copy of which HT has seen. It added the government was not sharing information with IMA though it has pledged full support to it.
The letter said no details regarding symptomatology, clinical progression of the disease, or patient details have been shared with the medical community. This is important as all medical professionals treating Covid-19 patients need to know these details, it added.
As criticism mounted, Vijayan on Wednesday said, “We have decided to increase the number. By this weekend, we hope we can do at least 3,000 tests daily.”
On Wednesday, 1,400 tests were conducted. The average rate of testing nationally is 539 tests per million and the country is ranked 52nd among countries in terms of the testing rates.
But experts said the number is still too little as the caseload has increased in the last few days with the easing of travel restrictions and the return of expatriates. “We have been telling the government [over the] last two months about the need to increase tests. Even a layman will say the test rate is abysmally poor. Without tests, how will you get a picture? The state is precariously poised if it did not increase its numbers,” said IMA state president Dr Abraham Verghese.
Epidemiologist Jayaprakash Mulliyil also said the state should increase its tests at least now. “Tests are best way to contain the spread. We have experiences of some foreign countries before us. It is time for Kerala to increase them,” he said.
The number of Covid-19 cases in Kerala crossed the 1,000 mark as 40 more people were diagnosed with the disease on Wednesday. Vijayan said out of 1,004 cases reported so far, 445 are active while the state has reported six fatalities. He added the new cases include 28 people who have come to Kerala from other states and eight expatriates.
Experts say out of 1,150 tests done on Tuesday, 67 people tested positive and added without a large volume of tests, a clear picture will not emerge. “Test, test, test this was the World Health Organisation’s slogan from day one. We missed it somehow. Results are there to see. A man who was injured after a jackfruit fell on his head and a driver who received spinal injury in an accident were tested positive recently,” said Dr Verghese.
Union minister V Muraleedharan, who is from Kerala, accused the state government of often hiding data to keep its record intact. “If you check the list of total tests in the country, Kerala’s position is 26th. No doubt, in public relations, it is the first. It is not even following ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research] guideline on community transmission tests,” said the minister in Delhi.
Vijayan dismissed these charges saying people who are jealous of the state’s track record are raising such apprehensions. “Our records speak. We have increased the number and doing sentinel tests also. There is no need of any worry on this count,” he said.