Is India conducting too few tests to detect COVID -19? What are our scientists doing to tackle the spread of the virus? And will their efforts lead to treatments and a likely vaccine?
K. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the government, answered these questions in a Twitter thread on Sunday night. He said Indian scientists and industry are helping empower our health workers, who are on the frontline, protecting them.
Addressing concerns over the need for more diagnostic test kits, Raghavan said the Indian Council of Medical Research was amplifying test sites and more laboratories were being opened for testing across states. Efforts to increase test capacity by ‘pooling’ of samples is also being evaluated, he said.
However, he cautioned that it was not simple and “needs the development and testing of optimisation algorithms so that one positive in a large pool is not missed.”
The Principal Scientific Advisor said Indian scientists are working on all aspects of the short-, medium- and long-haul fight against the Coronavirus.
He added, “Our industry is working on vaccines, re-purposing, critical-care treatment and partnering with academia and start-ups. The intensity of their pro bono efforts with Government is also impressive.”
Vijay Raghavan further stated that laboratories in India are also developing the kind of tests that will look for the presence or traces of the virus having visited a person. “These can be useful as a first-pass, even if they are cruder than the ‘gold-standard’ RT-PCR,”.
The Principal Scientific Advisor said researchers had also begun working on projects on serological research studies that could tell us about the extent and distribution of infection and immunity.
INEXPENSIVE TESTING KITS
While experts have been stressing the importance of cheaper tests to fight COVID-19, Pune-based private lab Mylabs Discovery Solutions has claimed that it has developed a relatively cheaper and more efficient homegrown test.
At present, labs are using kits prepared by state-run National Institute of Virology, based in Pune.
Each Mylab kit can test 100 samples and costs Rs 1,200, about a quarter of Rs 4,500 that it costs currently.
On Sunday, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu praised the efforts of virologist Minal Dakhave Bhosale and her team for developing the testing kit.
In a Twitter message, Vice President Naidu said their kit will contribute significantly in the fight against COVID-19 in India.
Mylab can reportedly manufacture over 15,000 testing kits a day that could be ramped up to 25,000 kits.
Meanwhile, many labs across India have applied to NIV Pune, for getting their own kits vetted.
Among them are researchers from IIT Delhi, who claim that their test kit could significantly cut the costs of diagnosing COVID-19.