A total of 60 laboratories across government-run medical colleges, national institutions, defence institutes, civic and private hospitals, and diagnostic centres have been engaged in testing as many as 14.8 lakh samples till date for coronavirus disease in Pune, of which ICMR-National Institute of Virology has performed the highest number of tests at 2.4 lakh, followed by B J Medical College, which recently crossed the one lakh mark.
Eight months into the pandemic, ICMR-NIV – which has its headquarters in Pune — has been at the forefront of testing samples for coronavirus infection, and along with its three field units at Mumbai, Bangalore and Kerala, is moving towards the 5-lakh mark.
Till October 3, the three field units at NIV-Bengaluru have tested 1.19 lakh samples, NIV-Kerala tested 94,960 samples and NIV-Mumbai tested 23,346 sampes, said Dr Priya Abraham, director of ICMR-NIV.
What has been a game changer is the development of a single-tube multiplex assay that enhanced the testing capacity across government laboratories.
“It is vital to look for all four genes of the novel coronavirus and hence each gene was tested separately. With each gene being tested separately earlier, the RT-PCR machine could test only 24 samples at one go. With the new method, we could test 96 samples in one go,” said Dr Varsha Potdar, head of the national influenza centre at ICMR-NIV.
Nearly one-third of Maharashtra’s samples are tested at NIV. They are mainly from Pune, Sangli, Ahmednagar, Jalna, Mumbai, Latur, Nagpur, Ratnagiri, Satara, Kolhapur and other neighbouring districts. The positivity rate is approximately 20 per cent, said Dr Abraham.
The apex virology institute undertook the job of validating a large number of commercial reagents, real-time RT-PCR kits and rapid diagnostic test kits for SARS-CoV-2 detection to enhance testing capacity.
The NIV director said that within a week’s time after detection of the first case, ICMR-NIV empowered 13 virus research diagnostic laboratories (VRDLs) across the country. “We shared testing protocols, reagents/kits and till date have been able to equip 109 VRDLs and several government laboratories using ICMR-NIV protocol,” said Dr Abraham.
According to Dr Rajesh Karyakarte, deputy dean of B J Medical College and head of the Department of Microbiology, after the initial meetings with experts from NIV and state Health department, they came out with their first test report on March 23 . “Till date, we have tested 1.04 lakh samples,” said Dr Karyakarte.
He pointed out that the single-tube test developed by NIV has helped reduce the time involved. “Daily, 1,000-1,200 samples are being processed, of which 200 are done via antigen test kits,” said Dr Karyakarte.
At the National Centre for Cell Science, senior scientist Dr Arvind Sahu said that they had tested at least 25,000 samples. “There has been a decrease in the number of positives across samples from Pune and now we are getting more samples from the Satara centre,” said Dr Sahu.
At the Agharkar Research Institute, senior scientist Dr Jyutika Rajwade said they began testing in July and till date, have completed testing 7,000 samples. “We are maintaining our testing capacity and now we are getting samples from Satara,” said Dr Rajwade.
In the private sector, there are at least 25 laboratories across diagnostic centres and private hospitals that are involved in testing samples for detection of SARS-CoV-2. Krsnaa Diagnostics has notched up the highest numbers and tested over 3.5 lakh samples from mid-May till date.
Pallavi Jain, manging directorof Krsnaa Diagnostics, said, “`We started testing in mid-May and soon we started getting samples from Malegaon, Dhule, Jalgaon – and other districts. From testing 400 samples initially, at one point we reached the highest number of 11,000 samples that were tested in a single day. Now we have five labs in Maharashtra and three outside the state. As part of our quality control, we send samples every week to NIV for validation. However, there has been a decline in the sample load…,” said Jain.