New swine flu kit makes disease detection easier in India

Portable testing kit gives results within an hour

By Sonal Matharu
Published: Saturday 31 March 2012

With the threat of swine flu looming large over the country again, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has brought out a cheaper, more effective kit to diagnose the disease.

The portable testing kit, Nu-Lamp H1N1, can give the results of the test within an hour. The currently used US government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Realtime RT-PCR technique takes two to three hours.  The kit was launched on March 31 at the ongoing Defence Expo 2012 in New Delhi. 

Chances of false positive detection are 10 per cent less with the new kit, says W Selvamurthy, senior scientist at DRDO.

The test using the kit has been priced at Rs 800 per test and cuts down the cost of swine flu testing in the country drastically. At present, private labs charge between Rs 6,000 and Rs 8,000 for the test. The testing for swine flu is free at government hospitals. But not all government hospitals and laboratories have the facility. As per the Union health ministry’s website, there are only 42 government labs in the country that can test samples for the virus. Few private labs are also supported by the government.

The technology used in the kit has now been handed over to a Hyderabad-based private company, RAS Lifesciences Private Limited, for commercialising.

“Unlike the existing swine flu testing machine, the new kit does not need any machine to operate. The portable kit can be easily used at airports, sea ports and can be taken to homes,” says Shesheer Kumar, managing director, RAS Lifesciences Private Limited.

Vijay Kumar Saraswat, secretary, DRDO, says the technology can be made available in the rural areas by including it under the National Rural Health Mission. “Since the kit does not need any big machines to operate, even paramedics can be trained to use it,” he adds.

The technology is the first to get a commercial licence for H1N1 kit in India. The licence has been given by the Andhra Pradesh government; the Drugs Controller General of India has also cleared the product. “We would now identify partners to expand the use of the kit. Land has already been acquired to build the manufacturing facility in Hyderabad and the facility will be designed as per international standards,” informs Kumar.

First reported in Mexico in 2009, swine flu reached India the same year. As per the health ministry, till March 22, 2012 Maharashtra reported 69, Andhra Pradesh 27, Rajasthan 28 and Karnataka five swine flu cases. Gujarat government confirmed one swine flu case on March 27.

As a preventive step, the Maharashtra government has allocated money to buy more ventilators for swine flu patients and has roped in private hospitals to provide standardised treatment. Andhra Pradesh says the virus is less virulent this year since isolated cases are being reported.

“When swine flu was first reported in India, detection was a problem. The tests were expensive and time consuming,” says Muzzafar Ahmad, member, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Though the government has scaled up the testing facilities, there is still a huge gap, he adds.

The DRDO will approach the Indian Council of Medical Research, health ministry and NDMA for wider use of the new kit. “If the government decides to scale up the technology, the cost can come down to Rs 400 per test,” says Kumar.

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