Out of the three ICMR approved private laboratories conducting Covid-19 tests in Chandigarh, Atulya Healthcare has already begun antibody testing, while Metropolis Healthcare plans to offer antibody testing to its customers as soon as it receives approval from the MC to set up its testing kiosk in the city.
Although, a cheaper alternative to RT PCR tests, experts state that antibody testing is useless to common citizens if they wish to know whether they have the disease, adding that it is only useful for serological surveys.
Atulya Healthcare, which began testing for Covid-19 in Chandigarh on June 10, is now testing 30 to 40 patients per day.
The price for RT PCR test has been fixed at Rs 2,000 by the UT Administration, but there is no regulation on the cost of antibody testing.
At Atulya, a complete antibody test is conducted for Rs 1,000, while Metropolis Healthcare charges Rs 800 for an IgG antibody test and Rs 13,500 for a complete antibody test. “The complete antibody test is likely to be more accurate and can sometimes pick up the existence of antibodies while you still have the disease, rather than indicating that you had been exposed to the virus in the past,” says Arvind Kampani, Assistant General Manager for Metropolis Healthcare.
Since neither the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, nor the ICMR or any other government agency have capped the price of antibody tests, like in the case of RT PCR tests, private laboratories are at liberty to fix price well above the manufacturing cost of such kits.
These kits can cost anything between Rs 600 to Rs 1,500 across the country, though its manufacturing cost is not above Rs 300. Adding to these expenses, if patients test positive through the antibody detection kit, they are still required to undergo an RT PCR test at the private centers in order to confirm whether they are still infected with the disease.
Difference between IgG antibody tests and complete antibody test (IgG, IgA and IgM)
The IgG antibodies develop and stay in the blood stream for about two weeks after one comes in contact with the virus, while IgM and IgA anti-bodies can develop while your body is still fighting the infection.
Malini Aisola, co-convenor of the All India Drug Action Network, who has been closely monitoring the marketing of these test kits, states that both these types of antibody tests are useless to individual consumer.
“The IgG antibody test gives an indication of whether someone was previously exposed to the virus, while total antibody test may not even distinguish between different types of antibodies. Neither is useful for diagnosis,” says Aisola.
Dr Mini P Singh, a virologist at PGIMER also believes that marketing these tests as a diagnostic tool or an evaluation of one’s immunity against Covid-19 is misleading the public.
“It is neither meant to be used as a diagnostic test, nor an immunity test. Even if you have antibodies, it does not mean that you are immune to Covid-19. There is no certain evidence of whether these antibodies guarantee that you will not catch the infection again,” explains Dr Singh.
Antibody tests are hence only useful for serological surveys, to detect the prevalence of the disease in a community, which can only be conducted by the government now. It is useless to an individual or a small group of people.
“No clear guidelines have been issued regarding the role of private labs in antibody testing. This means it is virtually free for all in absence of any regulations or oversight mechanisms,” warns Aisola.
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