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Five districts in Kerala yet to get COVID-19 testing centres

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: As the state grapples with a fresh wave of infections, five districts are yet to have their own Covid-19 testing centres. Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Wayanad, Idukki and Palakkad rely on laboratories in other districts to test samples.

The absence of testing centres in these districts, especially Wayanad and Palakkad which have seen a spike in cases of late, is potent enough to derail the government’s plans to augment testing as part of surveillance. Public health experts said the state government should step in urgently to establish testing
centres there.

“With the state expected to handle a huge inflow of returnees, the situation is expected to worsen,” a health department official told TNIE. “In that scenario, testing will be key. Districts which don’t have a laboratory for testing samples for Covid-19 should be provided with the same immediately.”

Sources said the state expert committee for combating the pandemic, through its chairman Dr B Ekbal, had briefed Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on the need to have testing centres in every district. The CM is learnt to have directed the departments concerned and the respective district collectors to set up testing centres in the five districts lacking them.

A member of the state rapid response cell for Covid-19 said, “The government is in the process of increasing the number of testing centres. By the end of this month, nine more labs will be added. This includes the government medical colleges at Kollam and Palakkad. In the case of Pathanamthitta, lab facilities are being set up at the Pushpagiri private medical college. Discussions are also on to set up a laboratory at the Wayanad Institute of Medical Sciences.”

The state currently has 23 laboratories to test samples for Covid-19, with 15 of them in the government sector and the rest private. Of these, 14 government labs and five private ones offer RT-PCR testing. The other four– including three private labs — offer CB NAAT testing.

The Indian Council of Medical Research has stipulated a four-step process for laboratory operationalisation. This includes the availability of proper infrastructure as per WHO guidelines, documentation review using photo and videographic evidence and staff-training by the mentor institute (Kerala has designated the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology). After that a trial run is conducted to ensure the independent functioning of the laboratory.

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