With a limited number of Covid-19 tests being done–a result primarily of inadequate availability of antigen testing kits– at least a dozen districts of Bihar are witnessing long queues of people waiting to be tested even as the state goes through a surge in cases.
On an average, each of the state’s 38 districts, except Patna, is given 1,000 antigen testing kits to be used over multiple days, a Health Department official said.
According to Health officials and patients who have undergone tests, waiting time in Bhagalpur, West Champaran, Siwan, Saran, Muzaffarpur, East Champaran, Begusarai, Gaya, Nalanda, Nawada and Rohtas districts is three to four days at present due to lack of antigen kits.
While Patna was in the same boat till not long ago, the district has got 25 additional testing centres since the last five days.
All these 12 districts have reported between 1,000 and 2,000 cases.
As the state government has procured only 2.8 lakh antigen kits, it should be exhausted soon if the number of tests are increased to 20,000 tests per day as suggested by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
State Health Minister Mangal Pandey said, “We are now testing over 10,000 samples per day and would increase it further.”
A district magistrate (name withheld on request) said the 50,000 antigen test kits have to be divided among the state’s 38 districts, with a sizeable chunk set aside for state capital Patna given its population concentration and heavy concentration of patients.
Besides antigen, RT-PCR tests are also being done.
Bhagalpur district, for instance, received 2,000 antigen kits four days ago and there is no no word yet when the fresh sets of kits would be sent. Around 300 samples are being tested each day in Bhagalpur.
Bihar has tested over 11 lakh samples in the last 10 days — in all, 4,29,664 samples have been tested so far.
As of Friday, the state has reported 33,511 confirmed Covid cases, but the numbers may be deceptive, say experts, given the likelihood of under-testing.
Dr Ajay Kumar, senior vice-president of the Indian Medical Association’s Bihar chapter, told The Indian Express: “Even the CM has accepted that we should test at least 20,000 cases per day but we are still stuck at 10,000 a day. With antigen kits readily available, the state should aim at testing 50,000 samples daily to screen out maximum Covid-19 suspects…. Our focus has to shift to mass treatment now.”
He said the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Patna, should also be converted into a dedicated Covid hospital now.
In contrast to RT-PCR, antigen tests — a test on swabbed nasal samples that detects antigens, or foreign substances that induce an immune response in the body, found on or within the coronavirus — is performed outside the conventional laboratory setting, and is used to quickly obtain a diagnostic result.
Explaining why antigen test kits play a key role in the battle to combat the virus, Dr Arun Shah, a leading consultant in Bihar and former president of Indian Academy of Paediatrics, said: “Antigen test gives quick result compared to the longer time with RT-PCR test. For initial test, it is almost accurate and in subsequent tests, RT PCR is preferable to ascertain (whether a patient is Covid-negative).”
Antigen test kits are also cost-effective, officials said. A source in the state secretariat said, “An antigen kit costs around Rs 500 compared to Rs 3,000 for an RT-PCR test kit.”
On the need for more testing, the source said Bihar needs to learn from the likes of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, “which are conducting enough tests”.
Speaking about the ground situation in districts away from the state capital, a Health Department official in Muzaffarpur said, “Srikrishna Medical College and Hospital (in the district) is doing RT-PCR tests for six districts as the nodal hospital. Reports of RT-PCR tests are taking three days to be made available.”
A Bhagalpur resident, who recently tested positive, said: “I used contacts in the bureaucracy but even then it took me and my wife three days to get tested.” For a person without reach, the Bhagalpur resident said, getting a Covid test done is a “very frustrating and harrowing experience”.
Sanjay Das, of Tarapur in Munger district, said: “No tests had been done here for the last eight days since test kits were not available. Ten people got tested today (Friday) after kits arrived. It is still very tough to get test done at a sub-division town (in the state).”
Districts like Banka, which have so far reported around 500 Covid-19 cases, are, however, relatively problem-free. Banka district magistrate Suharsha Bhagat said, “We have not faced any constraints so far.”
State Health Minister Mangal Pandey said, “We have so far tested more than 4.3 lakh samples. We are right now testing over 10,000 samples per day and would increase it further.”
Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi said: “Our government has increased the number of reserve beds in hospitals and are creating beds at other places…. We have spent Rs 8,538 crore on Covid-19 measures.”
Modi said the state’s mortality rate from Covid-19 is 0.7 per cent.
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