Health Minister reviews sampling, testing strategy for COVID 19

NEW DELHI, Mar 31:

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has reviewed the availability of medical equipment like ventilators, therapeutics, drugs and vaccines to meet the healthcare challenges arising from the Coronavirus outbreak.
At a meeting with senior officials of ICMR, Department of Science & Technology, Bio-technology and CSIR to review the sampling and testing strategy for COVID-19, here on Monday, Dr Harsh Vardhan discussed in great detail issues like procurement of reagents, website integration, data management and analysis, dashboards, research studies both planned and done so far.
He also discussed with Health Ministers of the States/UTs about the steps being taken by Union Health Ministry, reviewed the status of preparedness of States/UTs and lauded them for active surveillance, effective contact tracing and preparedness for containment and management of COVID-19.
At the meeting, he was informed by Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR that 129 government laboratories were functional with a testing capacity of 13,000 tests a day along with 49 NABL accredited private lab. Private chains have around 16,000 collection centres. Adequate test kits have been procured and disseminated across the states.
About Rapid Antibody test kits, which have been ordered, 38,442 tests have been done with 1,334 tests in private labs across the country, he was informed.
Further discussions were held with the three Secretaries of Ministry of Science & Technology about status of research into developing solutions for handling COVID-19.
Secretary DST, Dr Ashutosh Sharma informed that through mapping of the COVID-19 related technology capabilities in start-ups, academia, R&D labs and industry, more than 500 entities in the areas of diagnostics, drugs, ventilators, protection gear, and disinfecting systems have been identified. Over 200 proposals have been received in the past week against the funding calls of DST, from which over 20 entities are under active consideration for support in the first phase, taking into account the relevance, cost, speed and scale of solutions to manage COVID-19.
Secretary DBT Dr Renu Swarup informed that Department of Biotechnology has formed a consortium to support the development of medical equipment, diagnostics, therapeutics, drugs and vaccines to meet the healthcare challenges. She stated that the manufacturing capacity of the First Indigenous kit developed by a start-up in Pune is being scaled up to produce nearly one lakh kits per week.
A manufacturing facility for indigenous development of ventilators, testing kits, imaging equipment and ultrasound and high end radiology equipment has been set up in Vishakhapatnam where manufacturing will start in first week of April. DBT along with Drug Controller General of India has developed and notified a Rapid Response Regulatory Framework to provide expedited regulatory approvals for all diagnostics drugs and vaccines. Vaccine development is being supported with three Indian industries.
Research on therapeutic and drug development has started.
According to CSIR DG Dr Shekhar Mande, CSIR is working on a five-pronged strategy to find S&T solutions for COVID-19, comprising of: surveillance using digital and molecular methods which includes genome sequencing of the virus strains across the country; cheaper, fast and accurate diagnosis methods; intervention strategies comprising repurposing drugs and developing new drugs; R&D in hospital assistive equipment; and development of supply chain logistics models for items required for COVID-19 mitigation. He informed that in all the points mentioned, CSIR has forged collaborations with private sector.
Dr Harsh Vardhan appreciated the public health surveillance and response, technical guidance and laboratory support being given by ICMR.
He also appreciated the Department of Science & Technology, Bio-technology and CSIR for their support in development of ventilators, testing kits and PPEs indigenously at the time of need.
He directed that all efforts should be made to procure requisite testing kits and reagents urgently and supply them to the laboratories across the country. Further, it should be ensured that states do not face any shortages on account of testing kits, reagents or equipment.
He also directed that extra support be given to those states/UTs not having any laboratories/testing facilities as well as to North Eastern states and UT of Ladakh.
He further directed that all efforts should be made to ensure that there was no compromise on the quality of the testing kits procured by the Government or by the private labs and quality assessment of the kits was done regularly. For this a clear quality control mechanism and protocol needed to be developed and implemented by ICMR immediately so that quality was assured on a daily basis by all the laboratories.
Dr Harsh Vardhan also said research work should continue in dynamic mode simultaneously with the COVID-19 management efforts. He exhorted the scientists that India should rise to the occasion and develop solutions not only for India but also for the world.
The meeting was attended by Dr Balram Bhargava, DG, ICMR, Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary, DBT, Dr Shekhar Mande, DG, CSIR, Dr Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST, Dr Anurag Agrawal, Director, CSIR-IGIB, Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar, Senior Scientist, ICMR, as well as other senior officers and scientists of ICMR. (UNI)