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Covid-19: Entrepreneurs urge PM Modi to scale up testing infra, capacity

India must increase its efforts for asymptomatic testing at a large scale to diagnose community transmission, say entrepreneurs in their representation

BS Web Team  |  New Delhi 

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) laboratories have about 100,000 testing kits

India remains at the bottom among all nations affected by the disease (Covid-19) when it comes to testing suspected cases, even as the number of cases in the country is increasing rapidly. There is a dire need for India to test, not just those who might die, but also those who might spread the virus. A group of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to scale up testing infrastructure and capacity by allowing the private sector to participate in the testing process.

In a presentation prepared by venture capitalists and founders of 51 start-ups and businesses, including Abhiraj Singh Bhal, co-founder of Urban Company (formerly Urban Clap), CRED founder Kunal Shah, and Snapdeal co-founder Kunal Bahl, said that countries which had acted "early and strongly", such as South Korea, Singapore and Japan, had been able to somewhat control the spread when compared with countries that acted late — Irab, Italy, France and the US, among others.

“With one of the lowest testing rates in the world, the country must scale up its efforts by aggressively testing those with symptoms and those without symptoms, because asymptomatic people are more likely to spread the virus if they are not diagnosed in time,” said the presentation.

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It noted that India must increase its efforts for asymptomatic testing at a large scale to diagnose community transmission. As the number of cases scale up, so should the testing of asymptomatic at the earliest.

According to the current testing protocols in the country, India can conduct up to 10,000 tests a day.

And only those with a history of travel to high-risk countries affected by the virus and people who came in contact with those having tested positive are asked to be quarantined for 14 days, and those who show symptoms of the infection are tested.

The entrepreneurs suggested that the labs, hospitals and health check-up facilities need to start using testing data, both positive and negative, with artificial intelligence (AI). They should also collect location history of the confirmed cases, and quarantined people to make data-driven decisions.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) laboratories have about 100,000 testing kits, and additional 200,000 kits have been ordered. The presentations stressed on the need for the institute to evaluate the Indian methods of testing, and allow the capacity to go up to 500,000 tests a day.

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The Union health ministry has started random testing of people who are suffering from respiratory ailments like influenza and pneumonia but do not have a history of travel abroad to ascertain if there has been a community transmission of the coronavirus infection. But, the random testing has started at the scale of 10 per week.

In this case, testing should be done free of cost for citizens and all medical expenses of hospital quarantine and treatment for patients should be waived, according to the entrepreneurs.

According to WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, countries are putting in place school closures, and other social distancing measures but not ramping up the key features needed to beat back Covid19 — testing to find the infected, isolate the sick, and quarantine their contacts.

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The health ministry also needs to figure out low-cost and mobile testing solutions that could replace temperature checks and be done at train stations as well.

"Collaborated with @_mekin @vivekanandahr @1kunalbahl @kunalb11 @annamalai_k @alokmittal001 @varunjain42 and many other founders to prepare this doc, urging @PMOIndia to act now & decisively to curb COVID-19. Lots of references to @tomaspueyo's great work," Abhiraj Singh Bhal said in a tweet on Wednesday.

First Published: Thu, March 19 2020. 09:17 IST