With just two days worth of kits left, India on Wednesday received the first part of 7 lakh RNA extraction kits, out of an order of over 30 lakh kits placed with various companies.
RNA extraction kits are crucial for diagnostic tests on people suffering from COVID-19.
The supply comes at a time India is looking to ramp up testing in preparation for relaxation of lockdown norms and has set its sights on conducting over 1 lakh daily tests.
After the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) decided to indefinitely suspend rapid antibody tests following complaints about quality of Chinese kits, RTPCR tests remain the only test for coronavirus. The test cannot be done without RNA extraction kits, and many states have reportedly run out of RNA extraction kits.
Confirming receiving 7 lakh kits on Wednesday, Environment Secretary C K Mishra, who heads the empowered group on isolation beds, testing etc, said this does not include kits already available with the states, and that there are “daily arrivals”. He said, “We don’t have a problem as of now. We reached 70,000 tests today. Our testing targets will definitely be met.”
Asked whether India has adequate kits for testing, Joint Secretary (Health) Lav Agarwal said, “Availability of RTPCR tests have increased from one lab to 292 government labs and 97 private ones. It has been constantly scaled up – from a few hundred to yesterday, when 58,686 tests were done…. Whatever capacity is needed, whenever it is needed, the country has always kept increasing to meet the requirements…”
The kits are essential to prepare a sample to run the RTPCR test. To complete a full RTPCR test, three kits are needed: the RNA extraction kit used to isolate the nucleic acid from RNA virus, the viral transport medium in which samples are transported to the lab, and the actual RTPCR kit.
RNA extraction kits, as the name suggests, extract the RNA —- the Novel Coronavirus (SARSCoV2) is a RNA virus from the virus — in preparation for running the RTPCR test, which compares the composition of RNA of which many more copies have been made, against a probe to test the identity of the virus.
More than a week ago, the ICMR had said that India has RTPCR kits that will last six weeks. A day later, that number was revised to eight weeks. There has been no clarity since then on RTPCR kits.
Many states have already run out of RNA extraction kits and have been forced to send samples to distant laboratories, thus increasing the waiting period for testing and by extrapolation, contact-tracing and containment measures.
Scientists from ICMR, in a recent paper in the Indian Journal of Medical Research estimated that moving to a 24-hour working model to enhance daily testing capacity to 40,464 tests per day and by using machines available with various organisations such as NACO and National TB Elimination Programme, the country should eventually raise its testing numbers to 1 lakh to 1.20 lakh every day.
India is also planning to use machines used for TB testing to ramp up RTPCR capacity. The ICMR scientists wrote: “Using combination/multiplex kits, and provision of automated RNA extraction platforms at all laboratories could also optimize run time and contribute to capacity increase by 1.5-2 times.”
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