Bengaluru: A Hyderabad-based company claims it is ready with a rapid test kit for Covid-19 that can be used at home for testing by a common man. It will cost only about Rs 50 to Rs 100, as against the kits procured from Chinese companies at a whopping cost of Rs 400 or Rs 600.
What is more, this kit will be a do-it-yourself, with a reliability of 96 per cent (a 4 per cent error is quite negligible).
"What is important is how sensitive and specific your device is. All flus are not Covid-19. There are several flus of the SARS and MERS kinds, six flu (viruses) related to the same family have nearly 80 per cent same component at genetic level. What we are looking for is the 20 per cent," says Prof. P Ratnagiri, Founder of the Hyderabad-based Genomix Biotech Inc.
The kit will come in a small pouch, with a plastic test device (similar to a pregnancy kit) with a control line and a key test line that exhibits your results. It comes with gloves, a needle (to prick for a blood sample), a dropper (to draw blood fraction of a drop) on the plastic device. It also comes with instructions that will be available in ten different languages to give step-by-step instructions on exactly how to carry out the test at home.
"We are submitting these kits to ICMR this week. What is important for India is an indigenous kit now. Firstly, bringing something from out of the country without having much knowledge about how they are made is just shooting in the dark. What we have seen is how they have ordered things in a hurried way and procured it," he said.
Rapid test kits such as what his company has readied are not used for patients who are suspected to have Covid-19 as these people are typically put through the traditional Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests that take nearly a day to give results.
Rapid test kits basically test whether there are antibodies present in your body that are fighting a virus that already exists — these kits are used for mass surveillance. For any viral infection, the body typically produces its own antibodies to fight it from within, and in an infection like Covid-19 which is largely asymptomatic, checking whether you have antibodies may be a good first step to begin with as this gives results instantly. Of course, each person's production of antibodies may vary.
So if a government wants to test fifty per cent of the population in any area, this is a tool for the masses to test at home. This is, thus, most useful to keep track of community transmission. And since it is quick, rapid, simple, easy to use and cheap, it can be used by people many times — say once a week or once in ten days, in case they want to be doubly-sure.
The company has the capacity to make 50,000 kits per a day, but it could take three weeks to get approvals from the government, Dr Ratnagiri.
So why is it that more than two months into the emergence of Covid-19 in India, it is only now that Indian companies are scrambling together processes to make their own tests? India has, over the past weeks, toyed with the idea of importing rapid test kits from abroad at costs varying from Rs 400 to Rs 600 — and even found that a vast number of kits sent from China were faulty and had to be returned.
"What is strange is, that over the past years I have got funding from DBT for a variety of projects — TB, anthrax and even malaria. But I have applied for grant money, nobody has reacted. It is very unfortunate, I have been in this field for forty years, working in the US for many years, but came back to serve my country now. I'm the one with kits for Rs 50, but they are struggling with kits that cost Rs 400 or 600 and ones that are unreliable, Still I will move on," he says.