NEW DELHI: The Centre has shelved a plan to use rapid antibody testing kits in hotspot districts due to concerns over the accuracy of the results, this newspaper has learnt. The decision to not use these kits, which were imported from China brings a huge embarrassment to ICMR, the country’s top health research agency at the forefront of the COVID-19 battle. Around 5.5 lakh rapid test kits had been procured by the government recently from two Chinese firms —Guangzhou Wondfo and Zhuhai Livzon— and had been sent to states after the ICMR recommended that extensive sampling would be carried out in coronavirus hotspots for epidemiological purposes.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told a Group of Ministers that “the outbreak is under control and we can do without using the antibody testing kits as of now as there is doubt on the efficacy of the kits”. On April 21, the ICMR had said it would investigate the reports of faults with the rapid testing kits and issue fresh guidelines after two days.
However, no clarification has been issued by the agency even five days later even though on April 22, it had issued a protocol for the same to the states reiterating the kits be used only for surveillance purposes and not for diagnosis of infection in individuals.
Rajasthan, which tested 100 COVID-19 confirmed cases using the antibody kits, found that the kits detected antibodies in only five of them, despite all of them being positive. The state to flagged the issue to the Centre and the ICMR after which several other states reported similar concerns. Officials in the ministry said it is likely that the kits bought from Chinese firms will be returned but added more rapid testing kits are expected from South Korea and efforts are on to get these kits manufactured indigenously.