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Centre asks states to step up antigen tests

The government moved to make access to Covid-19) testing easier for people on Wednesday , asking states to involve private laboratories up to their full capacity, and also allow both government and private doctors to prescribe Covid-19 testing, including antigen based testing, for diagnosis.

Union health secretary, Preeti Sudan, and secretary, department of health research, Dr Balram Bhargava, jointly wrote to all states to ramp up Covid-19 testing using rapid antigen based tests, to early detect cases for containing the pandemic.

An antigen is a foreign molecule that induces an immune response in the body, especially the production of antibodies, and its presence determines a present infection, which is why the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommended it for diagnosis along with real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test.

The Centre asked states to start antigen-based testing in “campaign mode” by setting “camps/mobile vans” in high incidence areas. The positive people should be treated as per protocol and negative tests need to be re-confirmed using RT-PCR test.

“It is important to maintain strict vigil and continue to make all possible efforts to minimize the damage that can be caused by the 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. Since test-track-treat is the key strategy for early detection and containment of the pandemic, it is important to augment testing for Sars-Cov-2 in all parts of the country. This is the only way to detect the infection early and prevent its spread,” read the letter to states.

“…ICMR has also recommended use of a rapid point-of-care antigen test kit for diagnosis, and more such kits are being validated to increase the available options to the citizens,” it added.

Like RT-PCR test, antigen-based test also requires naso-oral swab samples but does not need an advanced laboratory for analysis. The results can be out between 15 min and 30min, making it ideal for mass scale testing, and testing in remote, inaccessible areas where advanced testing laboratories are not present.

Hospitals, both government and private, have either begun testing using antigen kits or are in the process of starting.

“Yes, we have started antigen based Covid-testing in our hospital,” said Dr Randeep Guleria, director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi.

Many private hospitals have either begun testing or are in the process of procuring kits. The cost of antigen testing is between ₹900-1000 in most private labs performing the test.

Delhi’s big corporate hospitals such as Apollo Hospitals, Max Healthcare and Ganga Ram Hospital have begun testing, confirmed spokespersons of all three hospitals. However, a valid prescription from a registered doctor is required for testing.

ICMR made it easier for labs, especially private labs, to conduct Covid-19 testing, provided government guidelines are duly followed.

“ICMR strongly recommends 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,” said the letter to states.

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