Two months after the first novel coronavirus case was confirmed in Rajasthan, the state reached a testing capacity of 10,000 samples per day, Health Minister Raghu Sharma claimed Saturday, even as state’s efforts to ramp up testing even further continues to face delays.
“The department had set a target of 10,000 tests per day which we have now achieved. The first coronavirus patient in Rajasthan was identified on March 2 and we had to send samples to National Institute of Virology, Pune. But in two months, we have achieved the target of 10,000 tests per day,” Sharma said Saturday.
However, owing to delay in arrival of RNA extraction machines and a dearth of automatic RNA extraction kits, the doctors are forced to do the extraction manually. Recently, the department had placed an order for 23 RNA extraction machines but these are yet to arrive. Moreover, an order for two Cobas-8800 testing machines – which can conduct both RNA extraction and RT-PCR tests – has been placed. As per the department, all the 23 machines are expected by mid-May while Cobas-8800 are expected only by the end of the month.
Health minister Raghu Sharma told The Indian Express, “Yes, sometimes there are delays. Like the rapid testing tests were delayed at customs too but we eventually received them.” The minister was referring to the kits – eventually found faulty – which had arrived from China but were initially delayed at customs.
Vaibhav Galriya, Secretary, Medical Education Department, said, “Upgradation of testing capacity is a constant endeavour. It was started at Sawai Man Singh hospital and extended to other medical colleges. Now all our medical colleges, including the recent ones, have been given approval for Covid-19 testing.” Apart from the government ones, the medical colleges which have been given approval include seven others which run under society mode under the Rajasthan Medical Education Society.
The Covid-19 labs have been set up at all these colleges and as per Galriya, these labs have Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) machines. However, before RT-PCR test, RNA extraction is necessary and this can be done either manually or automatically. And the tests continue to be manual in all of these medical colleges, bar Jaipur which has a facility for both.
“We have issued orders for procurement of automatic RNA extraction machines for all the medical colleges. Once we have the RNA extraction machines, the testing speed will increase. But having said, when you don’t have it, you can do manual extraction as well, which is being done in all the medical colleges,” Galriya said.
The 23 machines are manufactured by companies based in France, Germany, the US etc. and will come via Delhi. For Jodhpur Medical College, the machine, manufactured by Beckman Coulter, will come from Chennai. Officials said that their deliveries will start in the coming week and that the vendors have assured the state government that all these machines will be in place by May 15.
Additionally, there is a dearth of automatic RNA extraction kits. Terming their availability a “challenge”, Galriya said that the dearth in supply is due to a high global demand.
“One limitation we face today is shortage of automatic RNA extraction kits -we have RNA extraction machines in SMS but the kits are not available. But manual kits are easily available in the market, and so the dependence on manual extraction is much higher.”
Meanwhile, each of the two Cobas-8800 machines, manufactured by Roche – a pharmaceuticals and diagnostics company – are being purchased at a cost of about Rs 6.5 crore each for Jaipur and Jodhpur. Together, these are expected to increase daily testing by 3,000 to 4,000 samples.
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