COVID-19: Health Min to allow pvt labs to conduct tests

Health Ministry to allow accredited private labs to conduct tests for coronavirus

At present only government labs are permitted to do the test and the Centre is making arrangements to nearly double its capacity to test for the respiratory ailment. Credit: PTI Photo

Private diagnostic laboratories would take another 7-10 days to start testing of COVID-19 as they would have to procure the probes and reagents following which Indian Council of Medical Research will supply them with “positive control” for tests.

But even if private laboratories are roped into the coronavirus diagnostic network, not every member of the public will be able to avail the facility. A person can get a COVID-19 test done at a private lab only after a qualified physician in a government setup recommends it.

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“We want to engage private laboratories, many of whom have approached us. They would take 7-10 days to procure the probe after which we would provide them with positive controls,” ICMR director general Balaram Bhargava said here.

There are 51 NABL accredited laboratories that are likely to get permission once they acquire the probe and establish biosafety controls. Sources said the Union Health Ministry might take a decision on the fees because of the past experience when private laboratories made a killing during the first swine flu episode a decade ago.

“We appeal to the private laboratories that they should offer the diagnostics free of cost and some of them assured us that they will. But its a decision that the health ministry would have to take,” he said.

The private laboratories would also have to provide real time reporting to the ICMR as well as IDSP (Integrated Disease Surveillance Network).

Currently there are 72 laboratories in the ICMR network who are carrying out COVID-19 tests. Another 49 government laboratories from medical colleges, CSIR, DRDO and DBT systems are being added to the network. The new testing laboratories will be functional by the end of the week.

Each of the new laboratories have a daily capacity of conducting 90 tests that can be enhanced to 180 if there is a requirement. In addition, two high throughput systems, each capable of conducting 1400 tests, are being set up in Delhi and Bhubaneswar.

ICMR officials insisted that India's testing capacity was way above than the number of tests being carried out at the moment. “Our daily capacity is 8000 tests per day but we are doing only about 500 tests every day,” said senior ICMR scientist Raman R Gangakhedkar.

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