The Indian Medical Association’s Jharkhand chapter has requested the Union health ministry to urgently scale up testing in the state where 29 persons have been found infected by the novel coronavirus till Thursday, of whom two have died.
Till Wednesday, only around 3,000 of the state’s of 3.19 crore people have been tested. Jharkhand also has only three Covid-19 testing centers, one each in the government hospitals RIMS (Ranchi), MGM (Jamshedpur), and PMCH (Dhanbad) which started testing only from this week.
Jharkhand has clocked 82 tests per million, far short of what is needed, the IMA has said. In contrast, Kerala, with a 3.48 crore population, roughly the same as Jharkhand, and the only Indian state to have “flattened the curve” or tamed the spike in cases, tested over 400 per million, and is continuing to test more people. Maharashtra, reeling under the pandemic, has tested around 300 per million.
In the letter on Wednesday to Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Jharkhand IMA said it was ironical that the state has six medical colleges but only three are testing for the virus.
“This is not at all enough considering the enormity of the situation. The number of testing facilities has to be increased manifold immediately for increasing the number of tests,” the doctors said in the letter signed by IMA state president Arun Kumar Singh and state secretary Pradeep Kumar Singh.
They also demanded more rapid antibody test and PPE (personal protective equipment) kits.
IMA state president Singh said it wasn’t possible to defeat the virus without identifying patients, for which more tests were needed. “So far cases have been found from only six districts. We need proper screening for early identification to treat patients and safeguard others.
“Ideally, the number of testing laboratories should be 12, one for every two districts, to properly cover all the 24 districts of the state. Till this happens, at least all six medical colleges and a few private hospitals of the state should have the Covid-19 testing facility, not just three,” Singh said.
President of RIMS Junior Doctors’ Association Dr Ajit Kumar concurred. “There is only one way to take advantage of the lockdown. Test, test, test and identify and treat (patients),” Kumar said.
Establishing high-precision testing laboratories for Covid-19 is time-consuming, said managing director of National Health Mission, Jharkhand, Dr Shailesh Kumar Chourasia.
“Biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) laboratories are required for Covid-19 test. We have set up three, and one at the TB centre in Itki is proposed. We are already in contact with ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research, the apex body to green-light a lab) on this,” Chourasia said.
BSL-3, a health department official explained, “is applicable to clinical, diagnostic, teaching, research, or production facilities where work is performed with agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal disease through inhalation to the personnel, and may contaminate the environment. Such labs’ personnel receive specific training.”