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‘Wide variation’ in results: ICMR asks states, UTs not to use rapid testing kits from China

ICMR has asked states, UTs to withdraw use of rapid antibody test kits acquired from two Chinese firms — Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech and Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostics.

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New Delhi: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s apex health research body, Monday asked states/union territories to stop using the rapid antibody Covid-19 testing kits procured from China due to “wide variation” in their performance.

The advisory has been issued to the respective principal secretaries (health) or secretaries (health) of all states and union territories, asking them to withdraw the use of rapid antibody kits acquired from two Chinese firms — Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech and Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostics

The ICMR said it evaluated the testing kits procured from these two firms “in field conditions” and the results showed “wide variation”.

“In view of this, states are advised to stop using these kits procured from the above-mentioned companies and return them to be sent back to the suppliers,” the advisory stated

It advocated the use of RT-PCR (real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) throat/nasal swab test, claiming it is the “best use for diagnosis of Covid-19” as it detects the virus early”. 

The advisory from the ICMR comes five days after it issued a notification, asking states and UTs to stop using the Chinese rapid antibody test kits for the next two days until their quality is examined.

Several states had complained about the ineffectiveness of these testing kits. Rajasthan Health Minister Raghu Sharma had last week said the kits gave only 5.4 per cent accurate results against the expectation of 90 per cent accuracy. 

India had acquired 5 lakh rapid antibody kits from China two weeks ago.

Also read: How use of Chinese rapid testing Covid-19 kits created panic in a Kashmir village

The controversy

The rapid testing kits didn’t just allegedly show faulty results for Covid-19, but they were also reportedly sold to India at an inflated price.

According to an NDTV report, the test kits were bought by an importer, Matrix, for Rs 245 per kit from China. But Indian distributors, Real Metabolics and Aark Pharmaceuticals, sold the same kits to the government for Rs 600 each.

The Tamil Nadu government also procured the Chinese kits at Rs 600 per piece from the same importer through another distributor, Shan Biotech, in the first week of April.

Real Metabolics then went to the Delhi High Court claiming to be the exclusive distributor. While hearing the matter, the court found that the mark-up was “on the higher side” and directed that the price be reduced to Rs 400 per kit.

What is a rapid antibody test?

The rapid antibody test is relatively cheaper than an RT-PCR test, which takes around five to six hours to show results.

A rapid antibody test can give results in 15 minutes after the collection of blood samples. 

The test is done by pricking a finger and putting a few drops of blood on a strip — similar to a pregnancy test. Private labs aren’t allowed to perform antibody tests yet. However, it is a step forward for ICMR.

Also read: Shashi Tharoor: Modi govt wasted money on faulty Chinese Covid tests ignoring Indian options


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