Courtesy: Reuters

In order to save lives and contain the deadly coronavirus, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has directed the states to permit laboratories to carry out COVID-19 tests for individuals who are symptomatic.

Prescription not mandatory

The letter from ICMR states that in order to undergo a COVID-19 test, a prescription from a doctor should not be mandatory.

It should be noted that presently, in order to get the COVID-19 test in any laboratory in India, a prescription from a government doctor is necessary.

Health Secretary Preeti Sudan and ICMR director-general Dr Balram Bhargava wrote in a letter to the states and union territories that, the government healthcare facilities are already under pressure due to the rising number of coronavirus cases and the mandatory requirement of a doctor's prescription for the coronavirus test may at times pose an impediment for an individual to get tested and cause unnecessary delays.

According to the recommendations of the medical body, "laboratories should be free to test any individual in accordance with the ICMR guidelines". At the same time, the state should allow all the medical practitioners, including private doctors, to recommend the COVID-19 test to an individual who fulfills the criteria for testing.

According to the letter, the best way to contain the virus in India is test-track-treat. It was suggested by the ICMR that all the states should ramp up the testing facility.

Around 761 public laboratories and 288 private laboratories have been approved by the medical body for COVID-19 testing.

It was stated by the ICMR that, "The capacity utilisation of private laboratories for COVID-19 is grossly sub-optimal." To distribute the load of testing the virus among laboratories, it was advised that the states must ensure full utilisation of all COVID-19 testing laboratories.

The medical body recommends a three-point approach in order to increase the testing facility in the country.

Camps should be set up by all states or mobile vans should be used for collecting samples from high density areas. Symptomatic patients and their contacts should all be tested.

For containment areas, ICMR suggested antigen testing. After testing, the treatment of COVID-19 patients should be started immediately. COVID-19 negative patients should go for RT-PCR tests. The rate for RT-PCR testing should be fixed in all tests. In order to ensure surveillance and contact tracing, all labs should by order upload the testing data on the ICMR databases as well as report to state and district authorities.