The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court has asked the central government to expedite accreditation of Virus Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (VRDL) centres of private medical colleges and set up a devoted portal for granting approvals to facilitate COVID-19 testing facilities.
The court Thursday said, “It is expected that testing facilities can be made operational at private medical colleges which are armed with proper academic staff, provided such staff is given training of testing and if contingency arises, samples even can be allocated to these private colleges.”
A single judge bench of Justice Nitin W Sambre passed an order on April 23 while hearing through video conference the public interest pleas filed by Subhash Zanwar and C H Sharma seeking various reliefs and facilities during COVID-19 pandemic.
The court made suggestions after amicus curie advocate Anup J Gilda, on behalf of the petitioner, pressed for the need to initiate VRDL facilities on large scale. Gilda said the only difficulty in making them operational at private medical colleges was non-grant of accreditation by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) due to its stringent norms.
It is expected that the Centre will step into this arena to expedite approval process and may consider setting up of a devoted portal for that purpose, the court said.
Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) A U Aurangabadkar submitted that if such pendency of proposal is brought to notice, appropriate steps will be taken to expedite it.
Moreover, the HC on April 8 said it would be necessary for the Union Health Ministry to consider whether it can direct authorities to conduct rapid anti-body tests.
The court had also said these tests and home isolation could be considered as alternatives to hospital treatment for COVID-19 patients. “This would enable to ease out the pressure on hospitals at this crucial time,” the court said.
The court Thursday noted that procurement of rapid test kits was made by the Centre in part, however their use is put on hold in view of divergent outcome of result of sample tests.
Government lawyers S Y Deopujari and D P Thakre said that state government has requested the ICMR for more tests kits and will seek an additional supply if required by local bodies. The court asked ICMR to address the demands and place on record steps taken by the next hearing.
The HC on March 23 had asked the state government to take necessary steps for the creation of laboratories for COVID-19 testing within two weeks at Gondia, Yavatmal, Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts where confirmed cases had been found.
On April 20, the court had asked the ICMR and state government to clarify the period in which the procedure to establish laboratories at hospital in remote districts would be completed.
On Thursday, the authorities submitted that testing labs can be made operational at Yavatmal and Chandrapur by May 20 due to want of infrastructure.
The court was told that equipment will be made available by Haffkine Institute which procured them from Singapore and the shipment is consuming time. The court directed health authorities to take appropriate steps for expeditious delivery of Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction Machines (RT-PCR) machines required at VRDL facilities in remote districts.
Justice Sambre noted, “VRDL labs are required to be made operational at the earliest. Once the equipment is received and the labs are installed, operation of the same shall not be withheld for want of testing kits and it shall be the duty of the competent authority to make available sufficient number of testing kits for making such labs operational.”
On March 27, after the state government issued directions to private hospitals to prepare isolation wards, the HC had directed authorities running private medical colleges and hospitals across Maharashtra to provide safety gears, including personal protective equipment (PPE) or Hazmat suits, in adequate numbers to all doctors and healthcare and stated that it was the “need of the hour” to deal with the outbreak.
Directing authorities to provide report on steps taken to make COVID-19 labs available at remote districts in Vidarbha region and private medical colleges in the state, the bench posted further hearing on April 30.