ICMR Steps Up Screening: Seeks 5 Lakh Antibody Kits
As public discourse raises the question of whether India is testing enough of its citizens to flatten the pandemic curve, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has decided to place an order for five lakh test kits.
The organisation which is spearheading the battle against COVID-19 in India has sought price quotes for the supply of 5 lakh antibody kits (serological test) for diagnosis of the deadly infection.
According to The Indian Express report, that government experts point out that the serological test will act as a screening process, akin to what was done in South Korea, one of the few countries which have been able to flatten the pandemic curve.
Dr V Ravi, Head and Senior Professor, Department of Neurovirology, NIMHANS, who specialises in public health virology and development of indigenous kits, opined that considering the large number of suspected patients being quarantined in the country through contact tracing of just a single patient, the antibody testing for COVID-19 will act as a "screening test" that will give quick results in a few hours.
"The conventional RT-PCR test (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) being done in India detects the pathogen's genetic material, which is the RNA. The antibody test will detect the body's response to the virus. If the test is positive, then you can collect the swab and do an RNA test using the PCR kit," Dr Ravi was quoted as saying.
South Korea used the test since there is a shortage of PCR kits, the test is complicated, expensive and time-consuming. The antibody test can give the result in one to two hours. However, one needs to remember that is not a test that will definitely tell you that a person is infected with COVID-19 infection. It is only for screening.
According to ICMR the supply of these testing kits has to be "ensured" to six locations in the country: Dibrugarh, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bhopal, and Delhi. Currently, India is only conducting the RT-PCR test; the government has fixed a ₹4,500-cap for an RT-PCR test in a private laboratory.
Along with the serological testing kits, the ICMR has also asked suppliers for a quotation on procurement of seven lakh RNA extraction kits.
According to Dr Ravi, the serological test will only help screen more number of suspected patients in a shorter duration but is not aimed to be a tool for mass testing.
"Remember, it will be a test to screen persons who have come in contact with COVID-19 patients. If Mr X is COVID positive, and by contact tracing, it is revealed that 1,000 persons have come in contact with Mr X, those 1000 persons, after 4-5 days, can undergo the antibody test for screening. However, these 1,000 persons still have to undergo quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period," he said.