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NEW DELHI: India’s apex biomedical research body, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has written to states to reduce charges levied on covid-19 testing in private laboratories, which is currently capped at 4,500, as majority of testing material and kits are now being manufactured in the country.

The ICMR said it is now actively providing testing kits and reagents through 16 distribution depots created at its institutes. In the initial days of the covid-19 outbreak, India faced shortage of testing kits and reagents as the country was heavily dependant on imported products for molecular detection of viruses.

“In this intervening period, all out efforts have been made to facilitate local companies by handholding and promoting them to locally manufacturer swabs, viral transport media and RNA extraction kits. Further, indigenous diagnostic kits are being approved on a fast-track basis for RT-PCR testing,” said Balram Bhargava, director-general at the ICMR and secretary, department of health research, a division under the health ministry, in a letter to chief secretaries of all states two week ago.

Mint has reviewed the copy of the letter.

Meanwhile, TrueNAT-based test for covid-19 has also been validated and included as a testing modality at the level of district hospitals and primary health centres. Inclusion of other alternate platforms such as CB NAAT/GeneXpert and Abott HIV viral load testing machines are improving the situation, said ICMR.

“Now, testing supplies are also stabilised and many of you have started procuring such kits from local market. Due to varied options of testing materials or kits including indigenous ones, the prices are becoming competitive and are undergoing reduction,” said Bhargava, adding that in this backdrop and keeping in view the evolving prices of the testing equipment, the earlier suggested upper ceiling of 4,500 may not be applicable now.

“And therefore, all state governments and union territories administrations are advised to negotiate with private labs and fix up mutually agreeable prices for samples being sent by the government and also for private individuals desirous of testing by these labs,” he said in the letter.

ICMR continuously advocates aggressive testing of Influenza like Illnesses (ILI), symptomatic persons for which RT-PCR test is considered as gold standard. “Aggressive timely testing is the standard protocol to contain the virus as well as to provide treatment to save precious human lives,” Bhargava added.

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