No shortage of kits in Bengal: ICMR
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Friday refuted West Bengal’s claim that the state’s Covid-19 testing process has been hampered because it has not been supplied with any testing kits.
“This is not true as the primary Covid-19 testing laboratory, that tests maximum samples, in West Bengal is ICMR-National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Disease (NICED), and it has been regularly conducting tests. On April 22 alone, the lab tested 634 [552 new and 82 repeat] samples, with 50 confirmed positive among the new samples tested,” said a senior ICMR official who asked not to be named
The clarification from India’s apex biomedical research organisation came after West Bengal health and family welfare department this week said that as of April 22 ICMR/NICED had supplied it no kits to conduct tests as per the ICMR’s recommendation. “Three types of ICMR-supplied Covid-19 test kits and their present status in Bengal: 1)Rapid Testing kits- they are being held back on account of poor functioning as per ICMR advisory. 2)BGI RT—PCR kits- they are being withdrawn as per communication from National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Disease (NICED) on April 21. 3)Antigen kits- Not supplied to hospitals in Bengal...,” the department tweeted.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday accused the Centre of maligning the state and spreading “canards” about its testing figures when the “real problem” was with the testing kits supplied to the state.
The state and the Centre clashed this week after central teams were constituted to assess the Covid-19 situation in West Bengal, which has drawn flak for mishandling the situation, not enforcing the lockdown strictly and for low testing.
The spokesperson said NICED is also one of ICMR’s regional kits storage depots. “The institute keeps releasing kits to eight other testing labs in the state every two days or as per their requirement.”
According to ICMR data, NICED had sent 17,100 screening kits and 2,000 confirmatory kits until April 22 to the eight Covid-19 laboratories in the state apart from the main NICED lab to conduct real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.
NICED has an additional supply of 22,300 testing kits in stock that can be distributed even at a short notice, the ICMR official quoted above, said.
He added that the states have only been asked to stop rapid testing for the time being as experts were field-testing the kits currently because of the huge variation in results.
ICMR said no RT-PCR kit is faulty, and blamed handling issues for the problems reported from a couple of testing labs in Kolkata. “The RT-PCR kits are from many companies. The problems in one or two Kolkata labs were found to be in the BGI kits but that was not because the kits were faulty; rather they weren’t stored properly. These kits are heat sensitive, and if they are not stored under 20 degrees temperature, then the enzyme it contains degrades and test results won’t be accurate. These are also being replaced,” said the spokesperson.
“All other labs are doing fine; none has complained so far. As for antibody-based tests they have been stopped across the country for time being.”
ICMR said it has strengthened 16 depots across the country to ensure a smooth supply of kits. “There may be some logistical issues that the depots face in transportation these days because of restricted movement which may delay supplies sometimes, but to say that nothing is being supplied to the labs is wrong. The same kits are being supplied everywhere, why should only a particular state have a problem,” the official said.
The Centre on Tuesday put on hold the use of antibody-based rapid testing kits for testing Covid-19 as many states complained that they were faulty and giving inaccurate test results.
West Bengal chief secretary Rajiv Sinha on Friday did not comment on the ICMR claims and reiterated that ICMR has failed to provide sufficient RT-PCR kits to the state and the kits provided were faulty. The minister of state for health Chandrima Bhattacharya said: “The state health department will respond. I am not aware.”
“It is not true,” was response of a senior scientist at one of the 12 authorized laboratories in West Bengal to ICMR’s claim that the kits were not kept in right temperature. “We maintained the right temperature. I believe the kits supplied by ICMR-NICED were defective and other states have also complained,” he said.