Districts will soon have to rely more on rapid antigen tests as state laboratories inch close to the total capacity mark for real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests and cases continue to surge in state. Presently the state conducts on an average 50,000 RT-PCR tests, it has a total capacity of handling around 80,000 of these tests each day.
Currently, of daily 90,000 tests Maharashtra is conducting, RT-PCR contributes to two-third (50,000) and rapid antigen tests accounts for one-third. State plans to notch up from 90,000 to 1.50 lakh tests per day in a few days. For that, half of tests will have to be rapid antigen as capacity for RT-PCR is 80,000 in 166 laboratories.
A shortage of testing kits has also put pressure on RT-PCR tests in multiple districts. In Beed, which can test 1,200 samples each day, a shortage of kits has forced the district to test only 200 samples per day and rely on rapid antigen for remaining samples. “The shortage has been since the last 20 days. ICMR is slowly stopping supply of kits, and the state is procuring on its own. We have asked state authority for kits,” a district health official said.
Medical Education Secretary Saurabh Vijay, however, said the state has stock for a month. “There is no shortage of testing kits. If a district exceeds its capacity, samples can be sent to the adjoining district. We have asked labs to have a turn around time of 24 hours for the report,” he said.
RT-PCR is considered the gold standard for Covid-19 testing, while antigen test has more scope for false negatives even if a person is Covid-19 positive. If a symptomatic person tests negative for Covid-19 through rapid antigen, a RT-PCR is recommended but in several cases a second test is not conducted. Inspired by Karnataka, the public health department has issued a notification to take two swabs instead of one from symptomatic patients, and process it for RT-PCR immediately if the antigen test comes negative.
In Osmanabad, the current capacity of laboratory for RT-PCR is to test 200 samples per day, beyond that 400-500 samples are sent to adjoining districts.
The district has mapped 40,000 high-risk people with old age, diabetes, hypertension and co-morbidities that it plans to monitor every fortnight.
“For them we will do antigen tests and then monitor for symptoms regularly since RT-PCR tests are limited,” said district health officer Dr H Wadgave. Osmanabad heavily relies on Solapur for testing excessive samples.
Excessive samples in Sangli and Satara are sent to Pune, and in Chandrapur and Gadchiroli are directed to Nagpur.
Maharashtra’s positivity rate has risen to 24 per cent, from 18 per cent a month ago. Number of RT-PCR tests has grown from 25,000 in August to 50,000 now. At least 675 tests per million are being conducted presently. The increasing positivity rate indicates a rising viral transmission within urban and rural parts of the state and targeted testing of high-risk cases. Currently urban municipal corporations account for 65 per cent of Covid-19 cases, and rural 35 per cent (4.02 lakh cases).
On September 11, Haffkine Bio Pharmaceutical Ltd issued an order to POCT Services Pvt Ltd to supply 12.60 lakh RT-PCR kits, 6.30 lakh of these were to be supplied by September 15. District officials said the kits are yet to be distributed at local level.
Asked about shortage, Dr Sadhana Tayade, director of Directorate of Health Services, said, “We have placed our requirement with the Directorate of Medical Education and Research. They will supply through Haffkine.”
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