New Delhi, May 30 (IANS) Even as India is conducting over 1 lakh tests per day in the country for novel Coronavirus in private and public labs, at least 70 per cent of the testing capacity of private laboratories lies unutilised across the country.
A recent survey conducted by NATHEALTH, a healthcare foundation of India, showed that the private sector is being utilized only at 25-30%. The survey was conducted among 50 private laboratories across 13 Indian states to explore ways to enhance testing in private sector labs.
While the stress has been on more and more testing in order to trace and isolate every single case of novel coronavirus, the private labs accredited by the government can play a big part in testing more people.
The surveyed labs are currently working only single shifts, doing cumulative 5,000 tests per day with 17 labs doing less than 100 tests per day and 6 labs not doing any testing at all.
A mere 30% utilization of private labs also indicates demand flow as a challenge to enhance testing. The current testing regime prioritizes demand flow to public labs with only excess demand flowing to private labs.
Surprisingly in Maharashtra where the infection has been spreading like wildfire and it is very important to diagnose and isolate more and more people to stop the transmission, only 1,450 tests are conducted per day in private labs.
The data of the survey showed that in Maharashtra there are 23 COVID dedicated PCR machines which have the capacity of doing 4,600 tests per shift (8 hours) are doing 1450 tests per day. Similarly in Haryana and Delhi, there are 11 and 10 COVID dedicated PCR machines respectively, which can do over 2000 tests per shift but are doing only 1300 and 600 tests respectively per day.
In Telangana there are 9 dedicated PCR machines that are capable of doing 1800 tests per shift but have not done even a single test till date. The survey also included private labs from states like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Gujarat, Bihar etc.
It said there are at least 88 dedicated PCR machines in 50 private laboratories (which participated in the survey) which can do 17,600 tests per shift but are Adoing only 5000 tests per day.
According to NATHEALTH, the current testing capacity in India stands at 150,000-170,000 tests per day with the public sector capacity at 110,000 tests per day and private sector capacity at 60,000 tests per day. Currently India is conducting 100,000 tests per day.
A large portion of this is driven by the public sector which conducts around 75,000-80,000 tests, while the private sector conducts 15,000 – 20,000 tests per day.
Private labs with support from central and state governments could quickly ramp up testing up to 4-6 times with double shifts.
The survey said 56 % of the survey respondents faced logistics challenges which can be solved by sample flow between districts and states to ensure better utilization.
The respondents to the survey highlighted that there is a potential to increase the testing capacity by 6 times through better utilization and 2-shift operations in private labs.
Improving existing capacity utilization to 80% will increase testing to 14,000 tests per day assuming 1 shift operation. Additionally, increasing shifts to 2 will increase testing by 30,000 tests per day.AA
Speaking to IANS, Siddhartha Bhattacharya, Secretary-General, Nathealth-Healthcare Federation of India, said, “Findings from a survey conducted by NATHEALTH among 50 private laboratories across 13 Indian states indicate that with the current testing scenario, the private sector is being utilized only at 25-30%. There is a potential to increase the testing capacity by 4-6 times through better utilization and throughput management of private labs.”
Arindam Haldar, CEO, SRL Diagnostics told IANS, “We are still lagging far behind many other countries, in terms of quantum of testing. Today, private labs that are authorised to do COVID testing are already acting as an equal partner in this fight and have added more muscle to handle this task. The government should acknowledge that the challenges faced by our country today are significant, and should do what it can to strengthen our exceptional union.”
Speaking to IANS Ameera Shah, Managing Director, Metropolis Healthcare Ltd said, “The capacity of the private labs has been underutilized for a few reasons; starting from restrictive screening criteria which allow only for symptomatic testing currently. This has led to a lesser number of tests being conducted all across the country. We have also seen that state governments prefer that testing be done at government labs and only overflow of samples is sent to private labs. Additionally, logistics and inter-state movement also pose a major challenge.”
The survey highlighted three key themes — Coordinated Operations support, demand flow and Liquidity and standardized pricing guidelines that require intervention to ramp up testing and reduce COVID-19 infections.