ICMR DG Dr Balram Bhargava (right) and OSD at the Ministry of Health Rajesh Bhushan at a press conference in New Delhi on 14 July 2020 | Atul Yadav | PTI
ICMR DG Dr Balram Bhargava (right) and OSD at the Ministry of Health Rajesh Bhushan at a press conference in New Delhi on 14 July 2020 | Atul Yadav | PTI
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New Delhi: The central government has directed states to scale up testing for the novel coronavirus disease to 140 tests per day per million population, in line with what the World Health Organization (WHO) considers a comprehensive testing volume.

Currently, 22 states are already testing as much, according to the data shared by the health ministry Tuesday at a joint press conference with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). India is conducting about 201 tests per day per million population.

Among the high disease burden states, Delhi’s testing rate is the highest — 977.98 tests per day per million population. Maharashtra is doing about 197 and Tamil Nadu 563.

Gujarat and West Bengal though were among the states with a low testing rate.

“We have told states that WHO guidelines emphasise the need for comprehensive testing of suspected cases. It also defines comprehensive in the same document. They say if you are testing 140 people per day per 10 lakh people, that is comprehensive.

“Some states are doing testing at that rate but not all are. That is why our advice to states is to pull up testing to WHO prescribed levels,” said Rajesh Bhushan, Officer on Special Duty, health ministry.

On Monday, India conducted 2,86,247 tests, taking the total tests done in the country so far to 1,20,92,503.


Also read: Covid testing numbers on rise, but states are feeling the pinch of high RT-PCR costs


Uneven Covid distribution in India

The skew in the distribution of Covid cases in the country continues as before.

Ten states account for 86 per cent cases, among which Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra alone account for 50 per cent of cases. The other states that account for a major chunk of the disease burden are Karnataka, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Gujarat and Assam.

Credit: Government of India, PIB press briefing
Credit: Government of India, PIB press briefing

Replying to a question about the mortality rate, Bhushan said that it is “constantly coming down” and currently stands at 2.6 per cent.

“Many states have even lower mortality rate. For those that have a higher rate, every Friday and Tuesday we have started a system in which doctors from the AIIMS interact with ICU doctors from those states to resolve any issues they have. Even as we were coming here, one such interaction was on,” he said.

Bhushan also reiterated that the course of the pandemic in India should be viewed in the context of the population of the country rather than the absolute numbers. By that metric, both cases and deaths per million remain among the lowest in the world.

He said that until states take “ownership” of the Covid fight, it will be difficult to get desired results.


Also read: Capacity is not what’s hindering India’s testing rate, government price caps are


Covid-19 vaccine

Dr Balram Bhargava, director general, ICMR, said there were two Indian indigenous candidate vaccines which would be undergoing clinical trials.

“Any vaccine candidate developed and produced in any part of the world, will ultimately have to be scaled up by India or China because these are the two main producers. That is why every developed nation is in communication with India on vaccines.

“There are two Indian indigenous candidate vaccines that have undergone successful toxicity studies in animals and data is submitted to the drug controller. Both got clearance to start early phase human trials early this month. Clinical studies on 1000 human volunteers each,” he said.

In his first public appearance since his letter to the principal investigators of the Covid-19  vaccine stirred a controversy for the short timeline indicated, Dr Bhargava said the focus was to reduce any delays in approvals in the “sacred work” of vaccine development without unnecessary delay in regulatory clearances and compromising on the science.

He further said India is considered as the pharmacy of the world with 60 per cent of drugs utilised in the US and vaccines supplied in the work being of Indian origin.


Also read: ICMR should fast track coronavirus vaccine, not for 15 August but for science


Airborne transmission same as droplets

Referring to a recent open letter signed by over 200 scientists who said Covid-19 can spread through airborne transmission, Dr Bhargava said that it is an established fact that the disease spreads through droplet transmission.

“There are some hypotheses on airborne transmission, but even then, what they are talking about is airborne micro droplets — what is being called air borne is actually transmission through micro droplets. That is why physical distancing and masks remain important measures for controlling the disease,” he said.

On a question on tocilizumab and itolizumab — the two drugs that are thought to prevent the lethal cytokine storm being reported in many severe patients — Dr Bhargava said, “They have not reported mortality reduction by any trial.” This means the drugs have not reduced the risk of death in such patients. A cytokine storm is when the body’s natural immune system overreacts, attacking healthy cells as well.

On the possibility of price control of repurposed Covid drugs, most of which are very expensive, health ministry’s Bhushan said the mandate for taking such a step belongs to the Department of Pharmaceuticals. 


Also read: 30 patients, 2 months — how Biocon claims to have found a Covid hope in itolizumab


 

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