KOCHI: Amid doubts about the utility of rapid antibody tests in efforts to contain COVID-19, the state government has decided to buy more test kits on an emergency basis. The state has invited bids from manufacturers, authorised distributors and direct importers to supply 2 lakh antibody-based (IgM, IgG) testing kits through the government-owned Kerala Medical Services Corporation (KMSC).
“We require 2 lakh testing kits and have sought quotations from all likely sources. The response, though slow, has been encouraging, and we are hopeful of completing the procurement and meeting our target in the near future,” said a KMSC official. According the technical specifications, the kits should be validated at NIV, Pune and approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Further, if the kits are from China, approval of the National Medical Product Administration (China) is required to be submitted.
Earlier this month, Kerala had procured around 3,000 rapid test kits, with the help of Shashi Tharoor, MP, from Mylab in Pune. Last week, it received a set of 12,400 test kits from ICMR.
According to health officials, rapid testing is one of the best ways to identify community spread. “The only difficulty is the availability of test kits. Within two and a half hours, one can get samples tested, while PCR testing would take six to seven hours. Those people with one or two symptoms of COVID-19 can be tested using this kit, rather than waiting for the person to develop more symptom,” said a health official. However, a microbiologist said R-PCR (R-polymerase chain reaction) tests may not give accurate results. “One cannot fully rely on these rapid tests, as the results may vary.
RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) tests are more reliable, but mass testing cannot be done using this,” said the expert. Ernakulam district health department has decided to go ahead with rapid tests to check for community spread. This will be done by collecting swabs from selected 10 people from each region.
To start with, 10 samples would be collected from the Marad municipality region by a team from Karuvelipady Taluk Hospital. ICMR has cautioned the states that rapid tests can only be used for surveillance and monitoring trends. They can’t replace RT-PCR tests as far as diagnosing for Covid-19 is concerned, it has said.