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Tata Trusts, private firm join hands to roll out coronavirus testing kits

By Pavan Lall
April 08, 2020 11:35 IST
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The test - called the Truenat Beta CoV test - effectively enables same-day testing, reporting, and patient isolation initiation.

Corona

IMAGE: Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation taking the samples of a girl for COVID-19 testing at police quarters in Borivali, Mumbai. Photograph: Santosh Hirlekar/ANI Photo

Molbio Diagnostics, a diagnostics company, has partnered with Tata Trusts to roll out Covid-testing kits across the country.

Molbio, founded in 2000, largely focuses on testing for diseases including tuberculosis and malaria.

It can now diagnose a positive result for the coronavirus strain within an hour for Rs 1,350, said Chandrashekhar Nair, chief technical officer of the firm.

 

The test - called the Truenat Beta CoV test - effectively enables same-day testing, reporting, and patient isolation initiation (if required).

Officials say this is one of the few ICMR-approved tests to have been validated in a short period of time.

Its battery-operated kits are the size of a telephone and can be taken out into the field to test as many as 15 individuals a day.

They range between Rs 6.5 lakh and Rs 12 lakh, and have received both government and ICMR approval.

They will be utilised in locations in Uttar Pradesh to start with, said Nair.

The firm has registered orders for 1,500 testing kits, which will be deployed soon.

While the number of Covid-caused deaths and active cases has been rising sharply, India’s apex health research body had earlier issued an advisory directing containment centres to conduct rapid antibody tests to detect the infection.

These tests use a blood sample and punch out results in minutes, but are not as stringent as other technologies.

Nair says his kit uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, which uses a swab from the throat to diagnose diseases - a more accurate method when it comes to diagnosis.

“Rapid antibody tests can be used for speed but can’t detect all cases,” he said.

“People could be carriers despite not showing any symptom, and therefore be contagious.

"This means testing has to become universal in India for the disease to be truly contained.”

Molbio, which has been funded by founders and private investors, has raised Rs 400 crore to date, with Rs 240 crore coming from Motilal Oswal in recent weeks.

Madhav Joshi, CEO of the India Health Fund (IHF), said the initiative focuses primarily on getting innovative projects and services to market in this field.

The IHF is a grant-making initiative that has received over $10 million from Tata Trusts for supporting programs around infectious diseases.

The health ministry has said clusters of COVID-19 have appeared in Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, Karnataka, Telangana, and Ladakh.

More than 200 districts have now reported COVID-19 cases, and the risk of further spread remains very high, it said.

The ministry had earlier said that testing capacity had been ramped up significantly to over 10,000 tests per day.

Private diagnostic laboratories have started testing but are yet to handle a sizeable number of cases per day.

Two weeks back, the cost of testing was Rs 4,500 per examination and results were available within 24 hours, but the high cost had put off people from voluntarily getting tested.

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Pavan Lall in Mumbai
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