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Pool Testing & Capacity Build Up – India’s Strategy That the Likes of Rahul Gandhi Can’t Comprehend

pool testing

People like Rahul Gandhi may not understand the meticulous ways adopted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in testing to search for the positive cases of Corona, but each step has been taken as per a detailed, well thought out strategy.

Initially, India correctly evolved a testing method whereby it tested the people who are most likely to have the disease – those who returned from abroad, those who had contact with virus infected people, people who work in places where virus infected people are treated, etc. So instead of randomly testing people and wasting the test kits that are much sought after globally, India tested people who are most likely to have the virus and still found only 5 out of 100 people infected.

In the next stage too it checked a large sample of those who have respiratory illnesses and don’t have a travel history. The results assured everyone that India has not got into 3rd level of community transmission.

Pool Testing of Corona Samples

Because of the timely nation-wide lockdown, India is now in a better position, having contained the spread of virus to 170 odd hotspots across the country. This further enables India to go for aggressive testing in only those areas.

A few days earlier, ICMR approved testing of swab samples in pool. According to reports, Uttar Pradesh is the first state to adopt this pool testing model.

What is pool testing of samples? To put it simply, the swab samples of more than one person will be mixed and tested for Corona. If it comes negative, the whole lot is cleared for negative. But in case of a positive result, the same samples kept individually will be tested to find out whose samples in particular is positive.

ICMR recommended pooling up to 5 samples for the effective result.

To quote the official release of ICMR, “A pooled testing algorithm involves the PCR screening of a specimen pool comprising multiple individual patient specimens, followed by individual testing (pool deconvolution) only if a pool screens positive. As all individual samples in a negative pool are regarded as negative, it results in substantial cost savings when a large proportion of pools tests negative.”

This brings the speed in testing and also the judicious use of testing kits.

This report from Hindustan Times has shed light on the global experience of pool testing.

“Researchers from Israel have demonstrated that testing combined samples from up 64 people for COVID-19 significantly speeded up results, brought down cost and fast-tracked contact tracing, while reducing the workload on labs.”

“Germany, which has the lowest death rates in Europe, increased testing from 40,000 tests per day to 200,000 to 400,000 tests without compromising accuracy.”

Capacity Ramped Up

Of Course, India is testing more as the days go by. But here too, it is not a random test of the population as suggested by arguably clueless people like Rahul Gandhi.

Five lakh new kits have arrived, and another 6 lakh are on the way. But these too will be judiciously used in hotspots.