The ICMR and the Union health ministry have suggested short and medium term methods to all states and union territories for enhancing their COVID-19 testing capacity.
In a joint letter issued on July 17, Union health ministry secretary Preeti Sudan and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Balram Bhargava said the evolving scenario demands for enhanced testing capabilities to handle any surge in testing demands.
Increasing the testing capacity may be achieved by adding more laboratories for COVID-19 testing and enhancing the existing testing capacity of the approved laboratories, the letter said.
"In this regard, a strategy to enhance the COVID-19 testing in the country has been devised, which requires a coordinated effort from the state governments as well as various departments of the central government and scientific bodies such as ICAR, DBT, DST and DSIR under the Union government," it said.
In the short term method, the Union health ministry and the ICMR suggested that RT-PCR machines available with the research and educational institutions under the ambit of the state and central governments be temporarily deployed in district hospitals and testing labs so that each of these government labs have an additional machine.
"The state governments are requested to prepare a roadmap for such redeployment by factoring in the manpower requirements," it said.
It further said that there are 281 government medical colleges approved by the Medical Council of India (MCI) and at present 263 have been approved for testing by the ICMR and the remaining 12 government medical colleges can also be approved for testing by making available two RT-PCR machines, other ancillary equipment and trained staff.
"There are 261 private medical colleges recognised by the MCI. Out of these, 76 have been approved for testing and another 185 private medical colleges with two RT-PCR machines can be added to the testing network. The states shall immediately send the request for their registration as per the criteria of the ICMR mentioned in the link provided," it said.
The states and union territories may urgently procure rapid antigen kits to enhance their testing potential. These kits are available on the GeM (Government e Marketplace) portal for ease of access, procurement and cost efficiency, the letter said.
Addition of private diagnostic labs with two RT-PCR machines each will enhance the capacity by 48,000 tests per day, it said.
"The state governments must endeavour to add at least five laboratories per state into the network," the letter added.
In the medium term measures, the Union health ministry and the ICMR said each government laboratory should have at least two RT-PCR machines and one automated RNA extraction machine.
"Of the approved government labs for testing, in 123 labs, there is only one RT-PCR machine, therefore 123 RT-PCR machines need to be procured for these labs. This will enhance the testing capacity by 29,520 tests per day," it said
"While assuring our continued assistance and facilitation for COVID-19 testing across the states/UTs, a schedule for implementation of the above strategic interventions is enclosed for immediate implementation.
"We are sure that you will find this strategy for enhancing COVID-19 testing very pragmatic and highly complementing the need of the hour to strengthen our battle to control COVID-19 in the country," it said.