THE INDIAN Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Tuesday revised its Covid-19 testing strategy to include “all symptomatic individuals in every part of the country”. The strategy, as of May 18, advised testing symptomatic individuals, but restricted it to those in hospitals, containment zones and hotspots, contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case, healthcare and frontline workers, and those with history of international travel.
A member of the epidemiology and surveillance task force under ICMR told The Indian Express this was the first time that testing was advised for symptomatic individuals “without any qualifiers.”
“Since test, track and treat is the only way to prevent spread of infection and save lives, it is imperative that testing should be made widely available to all symptomatic individuals in every part of the country and contact tracing mechanisms for containment of infection are further strengthened. ICMR advises all concerned State Governments, Public and Private Institutions to take required steps to scale up testing for COVID-19 by deploying combination of various tests…,” ICMR said.
ICMR also urged private hospitals, offices, and public sector units to conduct antibody testing as a surveillance measure. “This will help in allaying the fear and anxiety of health care workers, office employees etc,” it said. The previous antibody testing advisories had focused on containment zones, migrant centers, and health facilities.
Despite new types of testing kits being added, access to testing still remains a huge challenge in a large country like India. “There is a definite need to increase the outreach of testing by introducing rapid point of care diagnostic tests. Also, there is value in conducting serosurveys with IgG based antibody tests in certain situations. In view of this, it is now suggested to include additional testing methods to improve the access and availability of testing in various parts of the country,” the advisory said.
While the previous antigen testing strategy listed healthcare settings, the new advisory specifies that all government medical colleges and hospitals as well as accredited private hospitals and labs should deploy the test kit. Previous advisories had delinated possible groups for antibody testing, including security, police, press, rural populations, laborers, farmers, municipal body staff, drivers, air travel staff, and prisoners.
“Because there are many new diagnostic tests that have been added, the advisory states to use all the possible new diagnostic techniques … all symptomatic in containment zones or out of it, hospitals or outside it. All those who are symptomatic should be tested,” said Rajni Kant Srivastava, ICMR’s head of research management, policy, planning and biomedical communication.