Testing backlog piles up as govt explores Covid-19 screening options

[ Tongam Rina ]
ITANAGAR, May 11: Logjam in testing continues with results of 521 samples for Covid-19 tests being awaited as of Monday.
However, the backlog is likely to be cleared in next two days.
Even as the health department halted the collection of Covid-19 samples for two days, starting Monday, to clear the backlog of testing samples, 238 samples were collected on Monday.
A total of 2061 samples have been collected so far, including 464 collected in the last two days.
The samples from Arunachal are tested at Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)-approved labs at the Regional Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Dibrugarh, the Tezpur Medical College, and Tomo Riba Institute of Health & Medical Sciences, Naharlagun.
The health department has provided two technicians from Arunachal to Tezpur.
Even with the three labs combined, the gap continues.
The state government has made it mandatory for whoever enters Arunachal to undergo reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for Covid-19, resulting in a drastic increase in sample collection in the last one week.
But the labs have been left struggling with samples as they have to also do the screening.
Acknowledging the gap between collection of samples and return of results, Chief Minister Pema Khandu on Monday tweeted: “Since Arunachal has mandated testing of all person entering the state, I request PM @narendramodi Ji to support for TrueNat testing machine approved by @ICMRDELHI for speedy #coronavirus test. The present RT-PCR lab in the state is getting overwhelmed as returnees increases.”

IRL to start testing on Tuesday

The ICMR has approved the use of TRUNAT in the state, at the intermediate reference laboratory in Naharlagun. The testing is slated to start on Tuesday morning.
As reported earlier, the NHM lab has three TRUENAT machines, and each machine can screen seven samples per day. If a sample is tested positive in TRUENAT, as per the ICMR protocol, it still needs to undergo RT-PCR testing, according to the health department.

Rapid test on hold, awaiting ICMR direction

The health department says that rapid test kits have been put on hold.
“We are waiting for fresh guidelines from the government of India, which we are expecting soon,” Health Secretary P Parthiban said, responding to a question from this daily.
The Centre had provided 3000 plus testing kits, but later recalled the kits from all the states, including Arunachal, following variation in results.
The ICMR said that the kits, procured from Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech and Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostics, showed wide variation in their sensitivity, despite early promise of good performance for surveillance purposes.
The states were asked to return the kits to the ICMR to be sent back to the suppliers. Several states continue to use the rapid tests kits for mass surveillance, even though the ICMR has not issued a fresh guideline on its use since the April guidelines.
Officials say that ELISA, TRUENAT and CBNAAT should also be used in the state for screening samples, and that the samples should be sent to the RT-PCR lab for confirmation.
According to the health department, there are not enough microbiologists and lab technicians to use CBNAAT, which is available in some of the tuberculosis centres in the state.
Some states are using CBNAAT for Covid-19 tests.
Meanwhile, the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, has developed and validated the indigenous IgG ELISA test, ‘Covid Kavach ELISA’, for antibody detection for Covid-19, according to a government of India statement.
“While real-time RT-PCR is the frontline test for clinical diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2, robust antibody tests are critical for surveillance to understand the proportion of population exposed to infection,” it said, but there is no direction yet on the use of rapid testing kits.
The ICMR has partnered with Zydus Cadila for mass-scale production of the ELISA test kits. The technology has been transferred to Zydus Cadila, it said.
Meanwhile, the health department has dispatched walk-in sample collection kiosks to the district headquarters.