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As state governments look to increase testing of suspected Covid-19 cases, they are now relying more on private companies and startups to overcome the shortage of testing kits.
Recently, state governments have stressed that the supply of testing kits from the nodal agency — Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) — have remained largely inadequate. To address the shortage, governments of Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are placing orders with private companies to procure more Covid-19 testing kits.
A health department official in Chattisgarh told ET that the facility doesn’t have enough supply and may run of kits by the end of this week. The situation is quite similar in other states as well after most of the states have decided to ramp up testing of individuals in the country.
Startups Address Testing Kits Crunch
In Chattisgarh, the government has recently implemented a new policy wherein the health department is testing all the travellers entering the state from Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Mangalore and Kerala since March 10.
With this, the health department had increased the number of tests per day which has now led to a shortage of testing kits. Faced with the shortage of kits, the health department is now working with Pune-based healthtech startup MyLab. As of now, the Chhattisgarh health department has placed an order of 600 kits which are expected to conduct around 6000 tests.
It is worth mentioning that MyLab was the first company to develop an indigenous Covid-19 testing kit. The startup has also received a grant of INR 1 Cr from Action Covid-19 Team (ACT).
Besides MyLab, the ICMR has also approved the testing kits of three other companies, including Altona Diagnostics, in a notification dated March 23. Maharashtra, Kerala and MP are placing their orders for testing kits, which works on real-time polymerase chain reaction, with these companies.
As of now, ICMR is maintaining that the number of kits available with it is sufficient to deal with the situation. The chief epidemiologist at ICMR R R Gangakhedkar said that as of Wednesday (April 1), laboratories in the state are working at only 38% of their capacities.
However, state governments are retreating that ICMR has reduced the supply of the kits as well as the reagent used in it. They are saying that ICMR is limiting the supply to stretch the availability of kits. For instance, Chhattisgarh health minister T S Singh Deo wrote multiple times to health minister Harsh Vardhan seeking relaxation in testing guidelines, assist in expanding testing facilities, and increase the supply of testing kits.
Further, state governments are also blaming private laboratories for not showing their interest initially to test individuals for coronavirus. A government official said that forty-seven laboratories came running to get approval but now look at how many tests they have done. “They don’t have kits. There is hardly any participation from them,” the official added.