The West Bengal government on Sunday alleged that the testing kits supplied by the Indian Council for Medical Research – the country’s nodal body for Covid-19 testing – were faulty and often giving inconclusive results. The defective kits are forcing officials to opt for multiple tests and thus delaying the process, the state health department said.
West Bengal has reported 339 cases of Covid-19 so far and 12 deaths, according to the Union health ministry.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, the state’s Department of Health and Family Welfare urged the ICMR to investigate the matter immediately. “There was no problem earlier when the testing kits were being received directly from the National Institute of Virology, Pune,” the department tweeted. “Recently, the supplies to government labs in West Bengal have been routed through ICMR-NICED [National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases], Kolkata. The apparently defective test kits supplied by ICMR-NICED are resulting in a high number of repeat/confirmatory tests and causing delays and other attendant problems at a time when we are battling a pandemic.”
The department claimed testing labs in other states were also facing the problem. The ICMR has yet to respond to the allegations.
However, the director of the council’s nodal body in Kolkata said the matter was being seriously addressed, reported NDTV. “It is unfortunate that the kits are not standardised to give exact results,” said Dr Shanta Dutta, the director of the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases. “It is difficult for each of the medical colleges to standardise the kits, hence, they are showing different and inconclusive results.”
Dr Dutta said the kits were initially assembled and standardised at the National Institute of Virology in Pune. But as the demand increased, the ICMR started importing readymade kits and sending them to 26 depots for delivery to laboratories. The NICED supplies kits to West Bengal, Odisha and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The tweets come a week after the NICED director had questioned the low testing rate in West Bengal and denied any shortage of kits. She had also questioned the reducing number of swab samples that NICED had been receiving from the state government.
According to cardiologist Kunal Sarkar, the frequency of testing needs to go up. “...sample testing in India is quite low,” he told Hindustan Times. “And in West Bengal, it is exceptionally low. We need to understand that it is not a competition of low numbers. If we suppress numbers in a state, then our hot spots would amount to nothing but fallacies.”
West Bengal was at the bottom of the list when it came to figures of testing per million. Over the past week, the state has been testing about 200 samples per day on an average, according to Hindustan Times. The state government on Sunday said it will start rapid antibody and pool testing.