Agencies/ New Delhi
A fast and cheap paper-based coronavirus test will soon be available across India, with scientists hopeful it will help turn the tide on the pandemic in one of the world’s worst-hit nations.
India has recorded more than 7.5mn infections, second only to the United States, and the outbreak has spread from densely packed megacities like Mumbai to rural communities with limited medical services.
The locally-developed Feluda, named for a detective in a famous Indian novel series, resembles a home pregnancy paper-strip test and delivers results within an hour.
Researchers are optimistic that its low cost and ease of use can help stem the pathogen’s spread in poor and remote areas.
“This test doesn’t require any sophisticated equipment or highly trained manpower,” said co-creator Souvik Maiti, a scientist at New Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB).
“There are lots of remote parts of India where you do not have any sophisticated laboratories...(The test) will be much easier to deploy; it will have much more penetration.”
India currently diagnoses Covid-19 with either RT-PCR tests, which are highly accurate but require advanced lab machinery, or antigen tests, which can give results in just a few minutes at a limited cost but with significantly lower accuracy.
Feluda, like other inexpensive paper-based tests being developed in other countries, claims to combine the accuracy of the PCR test with the accessibility of the antigen kits.
It uses the gene-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9, which recently earned its inventors Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Feluda has been granted government regulatory approval and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said last week it could be rolled out in the next few weeks by Tata Group.
If made available within that timeframe, India will be one of the first countries in the world to begin mass use of such a test.
The price has not been released, but local media said it could cost around Rs500 - around a fifth of what a PCR test costs in New Delhi.
The current prototype requires a PCR machine for processing, but scientists are working on a saliva or self-swabbing version that can be used at home, co-founder and IGIB scientist Debojyoti Chakraborty said.
In other developments, a Kochi-based company said it has rolled out on a commercial basis ‘Covi-DetecT’ brand RT-PCR test kits based on technology developed by Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.
TCM Ltd is among six companies chosen by IIT-Delhi nationwide to manufacture the much-awaited Covid-19 test kits.
TCM managing director Joseph Varghese said the company’s fully equipped unit in Kinfra Biotechnology and Industrial Zone has already reached manufacturing capacity of 10,000 test kits per day and will increase it to 50,000 test kits in a week’s time.
“Kerala is fully dependent on supplies from other states for Covid tests, which normally take 48 to 72 hours, some time even more, to reach the state through dry ice- pack journey. But we will be able to deliver the Kerala-made kits within four-five hours anywhere across the state. Covid 19 test kits are to be kept under minus 20 degress Celsius at all times and any variation will affect the quality. Also, local labs do not need to stock the test kits in large quantities now, as they are available now in close proximity,” Varghese said.
Meanwhile, in yet another day of high numbers of daily coronavirus cases, Kerala yesterday reported 8,369 more infections as its test positivity rate continued to hover above 13%.
“The day saw 6,839 recoveries while active cases climbed up to 93,425. As many as 267,082 patients have been cured so far. With 26 more Covid fatalities, the state’s death toll now is 1,232,” Health Minister K K Shailaja said in a statement in Thiruvananthapuram.
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