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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 151  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 210-215

Strategic planning to augment the testing capacity for COVID-19 in India

1 Division of Epidemiology & Communicable Diseases, Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi, India
2 ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
3 WHO Country Office for India, New Delhi, India
4 Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr Nivedita Gupta
Division of Epidemiology & Communicable Diseases, Indian Council of Medical Research, Ansari Nagar, New Delhi 110 029
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_1166_20

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Background & objectives: Nearly 5,500 tests for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) had been conducted on March 31, 2020 across the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)-approved public and private laboratories in India. Given the need to rapidly increase testing coverage, we undertook an exercise to explore and quantify interventions to increase the daily real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR)-based testing capacity over the next few months. The objective of this exercise was to prepare a potential plan to scale-up COVID-19 testing in India in the public sector. Methods: Potential increase in daily testing capacity of the existing public laboratories was calculated across the three base scenarios of shifts (9, 16 and 24 h). Additional testing capacity was added for each shift scenario based on interventions ranging from procurement of additional qRT-PCR machines, leveraging spare capacity on available qRT-PCR machines not drafted into COVID-19 testing, to in-laboratory process optimization efforts. Results: Moving to a 24 h working model in the existing approved laboratories can enhance the daily testing capacity to 40,464 tests/day. The capacity can be further bolstered by leveraging qRT-PCR and nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT)-based machines available with the Multidisciplinary Research Units (MRUs), National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme (NTEP). Using combination/multiplex kits, and provision of automated RNA extraction platforms at all laboratories could also optimize run time and contribute to capacity increase by 1.5-2 times. Interpretation & conclusions: Adopting these interventions could help increase public sector's daily testing capacity to nearly 100,000-120,000 tests/day. It is important to note that utilization of the scaled-up testing capacity will require deployment of additional workforce, procurement of corresponding commodities for testing and scale-up of sample collection and transportation efforts.

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