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ICMR to evaluate the rapid test kits after getting repeated complaints from state

As the number of positive COVID-19 cases sky-rocket to 21,403 cases, it is a widely known fact that the spread and extent of the pandemic are still unknown due to the lack of testing being carried out in India, especially as a large number of asymptomatic individuals are surfacing leaving several exposed in their wake.

“Districts complain of inaccuracy”

The Rapid CVID-19 test kits which had been brought from China were to be strictly used
according to the protocols set by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) who is
supplying the kits to different districts.
However, most districts have complained that the test results of the polymerase antibody test kits are inconclusive and unreliable which led the ICMR to recall the kits and temporarily suspend their use as the body sought to evaluate the kits.

The West Bengal health department tweeted: “3 types of ICMR supplied COVID-19 test kits & their present status in Bengal: 1. Rapid testing kits -They are being held back on account of poor functioning as per ICMR advisory 2. BGI RT PCR kits -They are being withdrawn as per communication from NICED on 21st Apr… 3. Antigen Kits – Not supplied to hospitals in Bengal.

Thus, as on 22nd Apr, WBDHFW has 0 kits supplied from ICMR/NICED which can test a
COVID patient as per ICMR recommendations. Assuring that every possible effort is being
made to address this situation.”

“Violation of protocols”

Several districts have been observed to violate the protocols established for use by the ICMR which could be the reason for the results. This violation has been in light of the massive shortage of the proper testing kits in India. There is major panic rising in the throats of government officials as more and more asymptomatic patients are being discovered leading to the fear of a more wide radius of infection than what is being reported. Several ministers have called for randomized testing.

“Urge for more testing”

Chhattisgarh health minister T.S. Singh Deo said: “Unless we use rapid testing kits, we will not know what is the extent of the spread and, after ICMR approval, it should be randomized in villages, bazaars, and towns.”

Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma said regarding the rapid testing kits that the testing kits were being provided by ICMR and they had given guidelines on who should be and who should not be tested and added that either the ICMR gives them flexibility in use or provide enough normal tests to understand the proper extent of the pandemic. “In such a situation, maximum testing is the only way of going to the bottom of this pandemic,” Sharma added in his statement.

“ICMR Said no diagnostic purpose, only surveillance”

This led to the ICMR to reiterate once again in a letter to the states that the rapid testing kits were meant for the purpose of surveillance and not the diagnosis. “It is reiterated that antibody rapid tests are mainly to be used as a tool for surveillance. Globally also, the utility of this test is evolving and it is currently being used for detecting the formation of antibodies in individuals.

These test results are also dependent on field conditions,” the Union health ministry said in a statement.
Further, in a letter to the chief secretaries of State, ICMR Director General G S Toteja stated that the tests are only to be used according to the protocol as they are a surveillance measure and do not serve a diagnostic purpose and that RT-PCR tests should be the only tests used for diagnosis and to do so vigorously as provided by earlier guidelines. The states have yet again been advised to follow the mentioned protocols as to the use of the rapid antibody testing kits which were stated to be “Gold standard” according to the ICMR.

“ICMR has prepared the protocol for using the rapid antibody tests for states. It is not a
confirmatory test, but a surveillance tool. RT-PCR is the test, which is used to confirm if
someone is infected or not. We must understand that,” said Prakash Javadekar, minister for environment and information and broadcasting.

“Evaluation of kits”

Despite this, the ICMR has recalled the tests and has stated that they will evaluate the rapid testing kits as per the data collected and received from various states. Though testing is of utmost importance at the moment as even a single asymptomatic individual could unknowingly infect thousands and prevent the promised lockdown relations, the Chinese testing kits are mainly to serve the purpose of surveillance as it has non-confirmatory results.

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