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Thursday, August 06, 2020

‘Testing only way to contain spread of Covid-19’

Dr Samiran Panda, director of ICMR-NARI, took addn charge from July 1 as chief of ICMR's Epidemiology and Communicable Division

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | Published: July 7, 2020 11:46:28 pm
icmr coronavirus, india coronavirus update, india testing covid, covid tests, icmr, A recent letter issued by ICMR and the Union Health ministry has advised state authorities not to restrict an individual from getting tested as early tests can help in containing the virus and saving lives

With the number of tests for detection of Covid-19 crossing one crore in India, the strategy for the agencies in charge continues to be test, track and treat.

“We are augmenting testing for SARS-Cov-2 across the country as this is the only way to detect the infection and contain the spread,” Dr Samiran Panda, director of the Indian Council of Medical Research-National AIDS Research Institute in Pune, who has taken additional charge from July 1 as chief of the Epidemiology and Communicable Division of ICMR, told The Indian Express.

Dr Panda took additional charge after Dr R R Gangakhedkar retired as the head of the ICMR division. Dr Gangakhedkar will join the prestigious Dr C G Pandit National Chair at ICMR and will assist the research body.

A recent letter issued by ICMR and the Union Health ministry has advised state authorities not to restrict an individual from getting tested as early tests can help in containing the virus and saving lives. In fact, ICMR strongly recommends that laboratories should be free to test any individual in accordance with the ICMR guidelines and state authorities must not restrict an individual from getting tested .

To ramp up testing in the country, ICMR has so far approved a total of 1,049 public and private laboratories for Covid-19 testing. Of this, 761 labs are in the public sector and 288 are in the private sector. ICMR has also recommended use of a rapid point-of-care antigen test kit for diagnosis and more such kits are being validated to increase the available options.

Panda said the agencies were looking at automated machines which can test at least 90 samples at a time. He also spoke about the role played by ICMR-NARI, which was among the 24 certified institutes that validated RT PCR diagnostic test kits for SARS-COV-2.

“Till date, the institute has undertaken validation exercises for seven kits received from different manufacturers. From May-June, ICMR-NARI in Pune had ramped up testing and got scientists together to validate diagnostic test kits. More than 3,500 samples were tested in the two months of May and June,” said Dr Panda, who now divides his time as NARI director and head of the ECD at ICMR.

Apart from this, the institute also validated test kits to detect antibodies against SARS-Cov-2 for surveillance and prevention activities.

NARI is the National Coordinating Unit for the World Health Organisation (WHO) supported Solidarity Trial in India. With 20 trial sites established across India including the high-burden cities of New Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Pune, Jodhpur, Bhopal, Surat, and Hyderabad, over 150 of the planned 1,500 participants have already been randomised. Another 10 sites are under consideration for inclusion.

In five arms, four anti-viral medicines; a) Remdesivir, b) Hydroxychloroquine, c) Lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r), d) (LPV/r) with Interferon 1α, are being studied as compared to e) standard of care. The ‘India Implementation Plan’ protocol and observational Covid Clinical Protocol will also collate Indian data for local analysis.

‘Controversies do not help’

Preferring not to comment on the recent ‘vaccine launch’ controversy, Dr Panda said the focus was on scientific evidence-based advisories to prevent and control Covid-19. “Controversies do not help. Scientific evidence is important to help the programme and policy makers move ahead,” he said.

“For instance, coming from NARI and other ICMR institutes and working as members of the Core-Covid-19 response team at ICMR headquarters, during the last two months, we played a significant role in highlighting the potential chemoprophylactic role of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which could offer an additional safety device to frontline healthcare workers for preventing SARS-Cov-2 infection. Advisories issued by the National Task Force on treatment and on testing guidelines by the Ministry of Health drew heavily upon these advisories,” he said.

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