Maharashtra plans to aggressively step up testing for COVID-19 and has roped in forensic departments and private medical colleges to identify suspected cases. Till date, the central government has conducted more than 11 lakh tests of which 1.70 lakh were conducted by the state government. Maharashtra has at least 13,000 people who have tested positive for coronavirus and more than 548 deaths so far.
At the State Medical Education and Drugs Department, officials said Maharashtra has conducted an average of 1,237 lab tests per 10 lakh population – among the highest in the country. This is against the national average of 803 per 10 lakh population.
While there are 58 labs in the state — 34 government labs and 24 private ones — another 14 will soon be activated, Dr Sanjay Mukherjee, secretary, state medical education and drugs department (MEDD) told The Indian Express.
A minimum of 10,000 tests are being conducted daily and this can be up-scaled to at least 15-20,000, Mukherjee said. “We are setting up 14 more labs — eight at government medical colleges and facilities at Gondia, Kolhapur, Baramati, Ambejogai, Jalgaon and Nanded. We are encouraging all state government medical colleges and private medical colleges supported by the state government to set up their own labs. We have asked national institutions, which have departments of biotechnology and microbiology, to use their lab machines to test for COVID-19,” Mukherjee said, adding that forensic departments at various institutions are also being requested to lend their machines.
Apart from upgrading and opening more RT-PCR labs, another way of increasing testing capacity is using automated RNA extraction machines. “However, there is a shortage the world over and while we have some machines, efforts are underway to procure them,” Mukherjee said.
While the mainstay for testing coronavirus is the use of RT-PCR, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has validated the use of cartridge-based nucleic acid amplification test (CBNAAT) so that it can be used to test for coronavirus. Also, TrueNat – a machine that is used to detect drug resistant tuberculosis – is being used to test for coronavirus. The machine scans sample collected from throat and nasal swab, which are collected by trained technicians wearing personal protective equipment.
Three laboratories using the CBNAAT tests are functional and the ICMR is trying to get the kits and distribute them to other labs where tests are conducted for tuberculosis. Meanwhile, officials in the Central TB division, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said a different type of cartridge is being procured. “The constraints in availability of test kits is universal and so, a different kind of technology is being explored,” the official said.