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Allow all doctors to prescribe COVID-19 tests under ICMR guidelines: Centre to states

NEW DELHI: Citing under-utilisation of COVID lab facilities, the Centre has advised states and UTs to enable all qualified medical practitioners, including private practitioners, to prescribe coronavirus test to any individual fulfilling the criteria for testing as per the ICMR guidelines which will prevent any delay.

In a letter jointly written by Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan and ICMR Director General Dr Balram Bhargava, it was pointed out that in some states and UTs, the capacity utilization of the testing labs, particularly the ones in private sector, is “grossly sub-optimal”.

It urged them to take all possible steps to ensure full capacity utilization of all COVID-19 testing laboratories.

They also pointed out that it has been observed that some states and UTs have mandated the need of a prescription from a government doctor for making an individual eligible to undergo COVID-19 test.

“In view of the increased load on government healthcare facilities, this mandatory requirement may at times pose an impediment for an individual to get tested and lead to unnecessary delays.”

“At this juncture, it is absolutely necessary to facilitate testing at the earliest by enabling all qualified medical practitioners including private practitioners to prescribe COVID test to any individual fulfilling the criteria for testing as per ICMR guidelines,” they said in the letter.

ICMR has strongly recommended that laboratories should be free to test any individual in accordance to the ICMR guidelines and state authorities must not restrict an individual from getting tested, as early testing will help in containing the virus and saving lives.

“While morbidity and mortality have been relatively low in most parts of the country, as compared to many other countries in the world, the virus has been spreading to newer areas,” Sudan and Bhargava said in the letter underlining the importance of maintaining strict vigil and continuing all possible efforts to minimize the damage that can be caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

With the start of Unlock-2, focus will continue to be on saving lives and also protecting livelihood as more and more economic activities are expected to pick up gradually, they said.

With an aim to remove all impediments in testing, Sudan and Bhargava have urged the states and UTs to take immediate steps to facilitate and ramp up testing reiterating that ‘test-track-treat’ is the key strategy for early detection and containment of the pandemic.

In order to facilitate testing, states and UTs have also been advised to make efforts in ‘campaign mode’ by setting up camps/ using mobiles vans in high incidence areas to collect samples of all symptomatic individuals as well as their contacts, and get those samples tested by using rapid antigen tests.

The positive individuals should be treated according to the treatment protocol and the negative ones should be tested for-PCR.

Also, the rate for-PCR test by private labs should be finalized by the states and UTs.

They have been further advised to make it mandatory for all labs to upload the testing data on the ICMR database as well as report to state/ District/ City authorities for surveillance and contact tracing, the letter stated.

In addition to ramping up and facilitating testing, they have also been urged to pay attention to ‘contact tracing’ as it holds the key to containing the virus.

“lt has been observed that in some states, delineation of containment zones and contact tracing has not been undertaken with the rigour and meticulousness that is required. You make like to review this aspect at the earliest and take necessary corrective measures,” the letter highlighted.

While-PCR is the gold standard for diagnosis of coronavirus infection, the ICMR has recently approved the use of a point-of-care rapid antigen test for early detection of COVID-19.

The test is quick, simple, safe and can be used as a point-of-care test in containment zones as well as hospitals, as per criteria specified by the apex health research body for testing.

More such kits are being validated by ICMR to increase the available options to the citizens.

The ICMR has so far approved a total of 1,056 laboratories for COVID-19 testing.

Of this, 764 labs are in public sector and 292 are in the private sector, the health ministry said in a statement.

According to ICMR, a cumulative total of 88,26,585 samples have been tested up to June 30, with 2,17,931 samples being tested on Tuesday.

India has reported 5,85,493 cases and 17,400 deaths, according to Union Health Ministry.

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