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Under-utilised: NICD lab sending large quantities of Covid test kits to laboratories in Odisha, Jharkhand

“Recently, on the instructions from the ICMR we have distributed huge quantities of test kits that were lying unutilized here and scheduled for expiry by 31 December to central government-run labs in Odisha and Jharkhand for their use. I don’t know why our state government is not sending adequate number of swab samples as much as possible to us despite repeated requests made to Swasthya Bhaban,”

Subhendu Maiti | Kolkata |

The state-of-the-art National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD) laboratory at Beliaghata run by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) under the Union health ministry has handed over huge quantities of kits required for RT-PCR tests for Covid-19 confirmation among other laboratories in Odisha and Jharkhand at a time when Bengal recorded the highest percentage of novel coronavirus positivity rates, at 32.18 per cent, in the country.

The reason: The NICD laboratory equipped with hitech and highly expensive Cobas 8800 worth around 5 crore rupees is underutilized owing to the Bengal health department’s alleged reluctance to send more swab samples of Covid-19 suspects to the Beliaghta lab for RT-PCR tests. Fearing expiry of the unutilized kits, the NICD laborary sent large numbers of them to several VRDL labs in the two neighbouring states during end of December. “Our lab has the capacity of conducting Covid confirmatory tests on 3500 swab samples every day but we are getting around hardly 1000 samples from the state health department particularly at this time when maximum tests are required amidst the virtually uncontrolled alarming surge in number of coronavirusaffected cases in our state,” Dr Shanta Dutta, director of the NICD, told The Statesman.

“Recently, on the instructions from the ICMR we have distributed huge quantities of test kits that were lying unutilized here and scheduled for expiry by 31 December to central government-run labs in Odisha and Jharkhand for their use. I don’t know why our state government is not sending adequate number of swab samples as much as possible to us despite repeated requests made to Swasthya Bhaban,” Dr Dutta said. Swab samples from different state government hospitals including the ID Hospital, Beliaghata, are sent to the NICD laboratory. “Following our repeated requests the health department has informed us to increase the number samples for our laboratory.

Apart from sending the existing 1000 samples daily, they will send 800 more, so far as we have come to know,” she added. “We will request the ICMR to provide us more kits soon if the state health department sends us 1800 samples daily. Presently, we are conducting tests manually on 1000 samples sent by the health department daily so far. We will use the Cobas machine inaugurated by the Prime Minister more than one year ago,” the NICD head said. “I am not aware of what the NICD director is saying about the quantity of swab samples. We will increase the quantity for them as when it is required,” said Mr N S Nigam, principal secretary of the health department.