COVID-19IssueMay 21Opinion

Diagnostics Vs COVID-19: The David versus Goliath Story

Insight into the contribution made by the Indian diagnostics industry amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

The year 2020 has been tumultuous for the healthcare industry across the world on account of the corona pandemic. And if that wasn’t enough, the second wave of COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the healthcare industry in general, and the diagnostics industry in particular.

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Jatin Mahajan
Jatin Mahajan, Managing Director, J Mitra & Company

The First Wave Story
When corona hit us in December 2019-January2020, the world had no idea about the disease. But the Indian
diagnostics industry was quick to rise to the occasion and develop tests based on different technologies – Antibody tests, antigen tests, RT-PCR tests, amongst others. This was remarkable, especially in the backdrop of a scenario where foreign-made tests were drawing a lot of flak on account of their accuracy and sensitivity. India’s strategy to combat COVID-19 was — Test-Track-Treat. These locally developed test kits did a real
yeoman service when there was a real scarcity of test kits in the market, and India was finding it difficult to attain the testing momentum that was required to counter the threat of COVID-19. The Indian test kit manufacturers, driven Jatin Mahajan, Managing Director, J Mitra & Company by their extensive R&D, were quick to come up with extremely potent test solutions in all the above-mentioned technologies. It was this quick and effective action of the Indian diagnostics manufacturers that arrested the spread of the coronavirus in the country. And most of these test solutions were much better on various parameters as compared to their foreign counterparts.

Most Indian COVID-19 test kit manufacturers were dependent on foreign suppliers for their raw materials,
and thus production was severely impacted. But the Indian manufacturers quickly figured out alternate sources for the raw material to mitigate the loss of production.

India’s delivery of the diagnostics story is also a remarkable one and an example of leadership and planning at
various levels of the diagnostics and policy ecosystem. Both the government and the private sector came together to effectively tackle the pandemic.The government ensured that all tests were Aadhaar-linked, and thus properly traceable – thus ensuring proper management of COVID-19 positive patients. The hospitals and diagnostic chains came forward very effectively to ensure that all precautions were taken to mitigate risks and at the same time provide an environment for quick, convenient, effective and in many cases door-step collection of sample and online reportage – enabling more and more people to come forward and get tested as and when they demonstrated covid-like symptoms. While everything may have seemed very normal to the end-users, the effective mechanism of collection, timely submission to the laboratories (especially in the case of central lab systems), testing and reportage was perfected to an art.

The second Wave and its Aftermath
The 2nd wave of the corona pandemic in India paints a very sordid story of the overall scenario in India. We were completely caught unaware and unprepared to handle the situation as a country. We failed on three major counts

• We were completely unaware and unprepared for the second wave. As a country, we did not see the mutated
virus spreading until it was too late and massive damage and loss of lives had already taken place

• The masses became extremely complacent, especially after the launch of the two vaccines in India. People
assumed that the worst is over, and disregarded all caution and standard operating procedures related to masks,
social distancing and avoiding crowded areas and possible infections. People adopted a lifestyle like what they had been practising in October-November 2019 before the pandemic

• The central and state governments ruefully misjudged their preparedness and the impact of the mutated virus.
The restrictions were imposed too less, and too late, and this led to the massive spread of the virus and more and more people getting affected.

But the diagnostics industry has risen to the challenge, and all diagnostics teams are working overtime and multiple shifts to cater to the increased testing demands. There are currently no numbers available to provide a clear indication of the increased percentage, but I probably would not be wrong if I say that they have increased 10 times what it was in February. There are lines outside testing laboratories, and there is a wait time of three to four days just to get yourself tested. In many cases, the test results are being delayed for a couple of days because there are not enough machines and technically qualified staff to cater for this unimaginable demand. But this failing is not of the diagnostics industry because these are unprecedented and unimaginable demands, and the faults lie elsewhere.

COVID-19 testing is being accorded priority over all other diagnostics to ensure that test results are provided at
the earliest, both to dispel anxiety in case of a negative report and to mitigate chances of further spreading in the  case of positive reports.

The Indian diagnostics segment has truly demonstrated sheer leadership in tackling the corona pandemic and  bringing diagnostics to the very forefront of the fight against the pandemic.

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