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Rapid surge in sale of Covid self-test kits

The Omicron-led spike in Covid-19 cases has turned out to be a boon for RAT or rapid antigen test kit makers, with people buying self-test kits to test at home. This has, however, also lead to concerns of possible under-reporting, as many users who may have tested Covid positive, may not have uploaded their results with the appropriate authority.

And this absence in reporting could mask the real numbers and magnitude of the infection, experts said.

The phenomenal increase in home-testing came up at the weekly Health Ministry briefing on Thursday, with the Indian Council of Medical Research Director General, Balram Bhargava, pointing out that, while 3000-odd home tests had been conducted in all of 2021, the first 20 days of 2022 had seen about 2 lakh home test kits being used.

Though there are several companies producing RAT kits and selling it to labs or government agencies for conducting tests, there are a handful of manufacturers who are presently manufacturing and distributing these self-test kits direct to consumers.

Mandated manufacturers
Neeraj Gupta, Co-founder and CEO of Genes2Me Pvt Ltd, said that ICMR mandated manufacturers to develop the infrastructure for reporting the numbers to the authorised agency for collating the data. Accordingly, kit makers have developed an app which needs to be downloaded on the individual’s mobile phone. The customer has to scan the QR code for registering the kit. After concluding the test, the customer is required to take the picture of the cassette and load it on the app which makes it “traceable and trackable”.

“The way the app is designed the result, once uploaded by the customer, will go to ICMR portal. However, some customers may skip the last step thereby leading to under reporting of numbers,” Gupta told BusinessLine.

Genes2Me has received the ICMR approval and plans to roll out its self-test for consumers early next week.

Aviral Roy, Consultant, Critical Care, Medica Superspecialty Hospital, points out that India has been reporting close to three lakh new Covid-19 cases on a daily basis, but actual numbers are likely to be much higher at around five-to-six lakh.

“Not everyone who takes the test feels responsible to report the same or isolate themselves and follow all protocols,” Roy said indicating, this might pose a challenge for policy makers while formulating decisions.

According to Gupta a way out for ensuring compliance would be making Aadhaar linking mandatory while registering the kits by the customer, as this will ensure more efficient data capturing and help plug the loopholes.

More challenges
Sometimes customers may face difficulties in downloading the app and thereby may skip registering the kit altogether.

“I had bought a self-test kit around 10 days back as I had symptoms of Covid. Though I tried downloading the app on my phone it was not happening and hence I just went ahead and tested myself and since I was positive quickly isolated myself,” Atanu Das, a 39-year old marketing professional said.

Surge in sales
Companies manufacturing the kits have seen 100-500 per cent growth in sales over the last fortnight.

Saurabh Gupta, Head of Strategy, Mylab Discovery Solutions, said they have been witnessing 5X growth in sales on a week-on-week basis. The Maharashtra-based company manufactures CoviSelf.

“There are a little over 3000 NABL accredited labs for conducting RTPCR RNA tests including government, private and international in India. On an average each of these labs can conduct 200-300 tests per day. So when the cases witness a spike then there will be additional pressure on labs and the testing and reporting may take longer. With the self-test kits people can get to know the result almost instantly. We have been witnessing phenomenal demand for these kits over the last 15-20 days,” Gupta said.

But there is a drawback, say experts, as the kit gives false negative results. So, if a person has symptoms but gets a negative result on the RAT kit, they need to go for an RT-PCR to be fully sure. The sensitivity of most of these kits is about 50-70 per cent, experts said. The Hindu BusinessLine

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