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India Now Has Its Own Affordable and Efficient Coronavirus Test

In a country criticised for not testing enough people, a Pune-based molecular diagnostics company will now make one lakh test a week, at a fourth of the original cost.
25 March 2020, 6:59am
India Now Has Its Own Affordable and Efficient Coronavirus Test
Photo for representational purpose by kropekk_pl / Pixabay

Starting Tuesday midnight, India went under a complete lockdown which will continue for 21 days—even as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world’s second most populated country climbed to more than 562 with 11 fatalities. While this number might not seem nearly as high as the one in some of the other, more developed nations battling the contagious COVID-19 pandemic, many experts have attributed this to low testing. Due to its lack of adequate testing kits, there were concerns about those who showed symptoms or who had come back from affected countries but didn’t show symptoms not being given the test, and instead asked to self-isolate, despite the World Health Organisation urging all countries to ramp up their testing efforts. This was followed by many doctors saying they had to prioritise who could take the test. As of March 21, India had only tested 14,811 people and had one of the lowest testing rates in the world. Thankfully, the government has opened up private testing facilities, with Pune-based Mylabs solution becoming the first private lab to develop a relatively cheaper and more efficient homegrown test.

While diagnostic tests for COVID-19 are largely reliant on foreign companies, several labs in India had applied to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, for getting their own kits vetted. Earlier this week, many private sector players were asked to step in because of fears over the numbers of those getting affected increasing exponentially.

The Mylabs kits have been developed in a record speed of six weeks and will reduce the cost of testing to a fourth of its current cost of about Rs. 4,500 per testing kit. The molecular diagnostics company got commercial approval for its indigenously developed tests on Monday, March 23. While the current capacity of tests being developed is 15,000 a week, they want to now bring this up to 25,000 and make about one lakh tests every week, and hope to even increase this number if needed.

The newly-developed kits 'Mylab PathoDetect COVID-19 Qualitative PCR’ would also be able to cut short the test time to two-and-a-half hours for a test that currently takes about 6-8 hours to complete since it uses a solution that does both, the screening and confirmation jobs simultaneously. This new test can determine positive cases even in asymptomatic patients. It has now been approved for use after it delivered results successfully at Mumbai’s Kasturba Hospital. “With emphasis on ‘Make in India’ and support from local and Central governments, COVID- 19 kit has been made as per WHO/CDC guidelines,” said Hasmukh Rawal, the managing director of Mylab Discovery Solutions to trade magazine BioSpectrum India. “It was developed and evaluated in a record time.”

Meanwhile, German company Altona Diagnostics has applied for an import licence from the Drug Controller General of India, and also hopes to start supplying to the ICMR-affiliated and private labs from early next week. Similarly, a Gujarat-based firm called Cosara Diagnostics Private Limited also received a test license last week to manufacture coronavirus diagnostic kits.

Currently, the ICMR testing network list includes 118 government laboratories with a reported capacity to test 12,000 samples per day, and 22 private labs with 15,500 collection centres.

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