Medical staff members wear masks and protective suits to mitigate the spread of coronavirus outside the special isolation ward at Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad.(PTI File Photo)
Medical staff members wear masks and protective suits to mitigate the spread of coronavirus outside the special isolation ward at Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad.(PTI File Photo)

Coronavirus update: Many labs yet to begin tests for Covid-19 amid supply crunch for kits

Till March 28, 44 private laboratories across India received approval for testing by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s apex biomedical research organisation that is responsible for providing approvals to laboratories for Covid-19 testing in India.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Rhythma Kaul
UPDATED ON MAR 29, 2020 04:22 AM IST

Private laboratories allowed by the government to test for Covid-19, a move prompted by the need to expand and accelerate testing, are having a hard time in procuring testing kits which are in short supply.

As a result, some of the laboratories, even with all approvals in place, have not been able to start testing; others are conducting fewer tests than what they are capable of; and still others are contemplating stopping offering tests altogether.

“There is severe shortage of testing kits currently. The orders we placed earlier are not materialising. I procured about 30-40 kits that are about to run out, and fresh supply is going to take time. Even swab sticks are in short supply,” said Dr Naveen Dang, founder, Dr Dangs Lab, which was one of the first labs in Delhi to have received government approval for testing.

“I am getting so many queries for testing. The phone doesn’t stop ringing, and people are getting annoyed when I tell them they will have to wait to get tested. If this continues, I might have to stop offering Covid-19 tests,” he added.

Till March 28, 44 private laboratories across India received approval for testing by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s apex biomedical research organisation that is responsible for providing approvals to laboratories for Covid-19 testing in India.

As per the government’s own admission on Saturday, merely 400 tests have been performed by the private labs since March 22 when the first batch of six private laboratories was approved for testing. All private laboratories together have about 20,000 collection sites that could actually double the daily capacity of testing. Currently, all 118 approved government testing labs can perform 12,000 tests in a day.

The government laboratories have tested close to 28,000 sample tests so far.

Testing kits are in short supply because there are not enough approved kit manufacturers, given the fact that China, the bulk exporter of raw material for drugs and diagnostic devices globally, is still trying to get back to business after the Covid-19 outbreak that originated in its city of Wuhan in December last year.

“We have received the approvals but where are the kits? The system is overburdened; we placed an order for kits a week ago but are being told that the kits cannot arrive before Tuesday; and that the order could even be delayed till Thursday. Unless we get the kits, we can’t test,” said Dr DS Rana, chairman, board of governors, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

One of the primary conditions for approvals to private laboratories was that the government would share only the gene sequence of the virus for testing purposes with the private laboratories. The laboratories needed to procure everything else on their own.

A spokesperson for another private hospital in the city also said that the number of tests being conducted is restricted because of the short supply of kits. “We have been doing tests for three days now, and on average 80 tests per day; however, we can do many more, if the supply of kits weren’t an issue. We have placed an order and have been assured supply by mid next week,” said the spokesperson on condition of anonymity.

There are only four ICMR approved kit manufactures, of which two are Indian companies. “Of the four, one company sells kits that require special equipment for testing so it is not of any use to us. Another one is a Korean company but it hasn’t begun shipping to India yet; so we are actually left with two Indian companies that are trying to meet the high demand,” said Dr Dang.

If the shortage of kits isn’t t bad enough, the staff going for home collection is also being harassed by their landlords.

“Some of my home collection staff has been told by their landlords that they wouldn’t like them to continue living in their property as they are collecting samples for Covid-19 testing,” said Dr Dang.

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