NEW DELHI (AP) – As the first wave of the pandemic began to take hold in India, Sanchi Jawa and his 59-year-old father Harish Jawa realized they were showing symptoms of a COVID-19 infection . They decided to self-isolate and get tested – but it was no easy task in the spring of 2020.
Father and daughter had to make several calls to several private labs in the capital of New Delhi before they could organize the gold standard of COVID-19 testing – a real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction test , or RT-PCR.
It cost almost $ 70 per test. A price that Sanchi, 29, a digital marketer, and her father, a successful business owner, could afford but was out of reach for the majority of Indians, who have a per capita income of less than $ 160. Per month, according to the World Bank.
“This (RT-PCR testing) should be accessible to the common man, and anyone should be able to do it,” Sanchi said.
Over a year later, most Indians can access PCR testing at a fraction of the cost – thanks to a large-scale public-private partnership, known as InDx, which put the know-how in place. do and the local infrastructure to manufacture these tests in India.
Shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic, the Indian government, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, commissioned the country’s most advanced bioscience innovation center – the Center for Cellular and Molecular Platforms, or C-CAMP – quickly find a way to locally produce the virus. test kits.
But it was not a simple task as most of the components of the RT-PCR test – including the mixers needed to analyze the samples – were not made in India and had to be imported from China and South Korea, making increase the prices.
With global trade almost at a standstill and a huge demand for test kits from the US and UK, delivery has also been significantly delayed.
Reagents, primers and other chemical components – like amidites and deoxyribonucleotide triphosphates, which are essential for the chemical analysis used to detect the presence of the virus – had never been widely manufactured in the country and had to be imported. Even the accessory parts, like the plastic bottles used in the testing process, were mostly imported.
By working with Indian medical technology manufacturers, with support from Tata Consultancy Services, the program led by C-CAMP has achieved rapid change.
India has grown from 14 labs capable of performing COVID-19 tests in February 2020 to more than 1,500 in the next six months. The country now has nearly 3,000 such laboratories.
The price of RT-PCR tests has fallen to just $ 7 in some parts of the country, almost ten times less than when they were made available.
The availability of locally made test components has allowed the government to source test kits for as little as 50 cents a unit when purchasing wholesale from manufacturers. Indian authorities can now distribute free RT-PCR tests to those who cannot afford the fees and set low price caps for paid RT-PCR tests in private laboratories.
Lalith Kishore, COVID-19 Scaling Program Director of Operations at C-CAMP, says the public-private partnership has helped more than 160 Indian companies innovate, create mechanisms and collectively manufacture more one million RT-PCR test kits per day.
“Many of these companies have enabled the complete reversal of our dependence on imports when it comes to diagnostics,” Kishore said.
India’s increased COVID-19 testing capacity has enabled the country to perform more than 580 million tests to date.
Over a million tests are still administered daily in the country and 80% of the test kits used are now entirely made in India.
Manisha Bhinge, executive director of health programs and initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation, which injected $ 3.5 million into the initiative, said she believed the increased availability of COVID- tests 19 enabled the country to implement a robust testing program that has helped public health experts design more effective policies to manage the virus outbreak.
This was especially important during the second deadly wave of infections in the country which peaked in May 2021 with more than 400,000 cases detected every day.
“The scale of the crisis would have been much greater if we didn’t have the testing capacity in place to guide public health officials to understand how the epidemic was unfolding,” Bhinge said.
She added that while the increased production of test kits and other diagnostic components has helped India fight the pandemic and enabled self-sufficiency in molecular diagnostics, it has also created a new market for countries seeking to procure diagnostic technologies and test kits. .
Middle- and low-income countries now have “more stability and security and access to affordable medical technologies,” she said.
Cheap and sometimes free RT-PCR tests have given millions of Indians like Mohit Dabla, 23, a driver who earns $ 300 a month, access to world-class virus tests.
When he presented his first symptoms in September 2021, his employer asked him to take an RT-PCR test. He was lucky because a government dispensary around the corner from his home in New Delhi offered the test for free.
“I could never have paid $ 70 for a test,” Dabla said.
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