|Ruchika Chitravanshi, Sohini Das and Sachin Mambata / 03 01, 2021
Covid figures are decreasing in the country, so the number of investigations is also decreasing. Earlier there were about one crore checks daily, which has now come down to seven lakhs. Due to this, the equipment and staff in the testing laboratories are not being fully utilized, whose number was increased in the wake of the epidemic. Many laboratories are using RT-PCR technology to check other diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis. Now the demand for non-covid investigations is also increasing.
In states like Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, the demand for RT-PCR has increased again due to increasing cases of Covid, but the demand for RT-PCR tests in the testing laboratories is decreasing in most parts of the country. The decrease in the number of investigations was cited by the central team sent to Maharashtra as one of the reasons for increasing Covid cases in the state. A senior official said, “It is not possible to quickly identify cases in investigations and stop the spread in a time bound manner.”
Urging not to publish the name of a laboratory in Chennai, he said that earlier they used to examine 5,000 samples daily, but now they are doing 500 RT-PCR tests every day. One laboratory chain stated, “At an industry level, the use of RT-PCR machines is about 30 per cent of the total installed capacity.” Harsha Mahajan, founder and chief radiologist of Mahajan Imaging and senior vice president of Nathealth, said, ‘The investment was made keeping in mind the need of the country. We had built a lot of capacity from scratch. If the demand does not come then we have nothing to do. People are very comfortable with the virus now, which is not a good sign. ‘
The number of RT-PCR tests in Delhi has come down from 60,000 to 40,000 during the last two weeks. RT-PCR is considered to be the most reliable test to detect a cavid in a patient. Many investigative laboratories have invested heavily in capacity enhancement. They have bought new machines, automated extractors and hired many people such as sample collection team, data entry operator, technician. In view of the increasing demand for tests at the time when the epidemic was increasing in the country, many laboratories had increased the number of collection centers.
Radiologists believe that increasing investment in testing was the need of the hour and it was difficult for laboratories to fix the maximum cost of the test. But the diagnostic field has been successful in adopting better technology by increasing the use of RT-PCR tests. A radiologist said, “This is the most sensitive way of detecting an infection and it has given us the opportunity to extend our investigations with more accurate results.”
Experts said the investigative laboratories have trained staff and have developed the infrastructure for molecular testing over the past year, so they need to consider finding viable alternative methods for effective use of these resources in the near future.
Arindam Haldar, CEO of Thyrocare Technologies, said that during the epidemic, increased staff for swab collection or data entry is being used for other tasks. Halder said, ‘The employees who were recruited were not the people with the highest salaries. Most phlebotomists (who take blood samples) were trained to store swab samples and are now being used for other tasks. Not much money is being spent on this. He said that these employees would prove to be helpful when there was an increase in non-Covid investigations.
Amira Shah, promoter and managing director of Metropolis Healthcare, said, “Demand for non-covid investigations is gradually increasing as people who postponed their health needs at the peak of the epidemic are now taking healthcare services.” Huh. The number of infections in patients is less because people stay at home most of the time. However, rapid vaccination testing laboratory labs are hoping to increase demand for antibodies. But many people warn that the investigation may prevent the spread of coronavirus because we are not yet completely free from this epidemic. The demand for RT-PCR is expected to increase. Halder said, ‘We anticipate that the demand for genetic testing will increase in the future as the level of awareness has increased. RT-PCR is also used to identify other diseases such as HIV. In the coming time, its use will increase further. ‘
What is a PCR test and why is it important?
Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction is a scientific way of making millions and millions of copies of a certain DNA sample. The genetic material of SARS-COV-2 virus is stored in RNA. This RNA from a sample is transformed into its complementary DNA sequence by reverse transcription method. RT-PCR can detect novel coronaviruses, even if it is present in extremely small amounts in virus samples. RT-PCR can also recognize up to 1,000 copies of viral RNA per milliliter. This means that the COVID-19 RT-PCR probe is not only able to identify the genetic information of the virus but is also capable of calculating the amount of genetic information present in the sample.