Covid-19 testing in India is majorly surveillance guided. As of Wednesday, April 15, India reported about 11,000 laboratory-confirmed cases after testing 2.5 lakh people. Most of them were traced through a surveillance network, a top health ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
“You can’t compare doubling of cases on certain days because every country has its own testing speed and capacity. We are relying on surveillance methods to detect the infected and control the spread through lockdown. We can’t conduct mass testing due to limitations. But in the given scenario, we are doing our best,” the health official told India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU).
Data shows India has one of the lowest testing rates in the world. According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and data website “Our World in Data”, India is performing 0.2 tests per thousand people. Therefore, for 1.34 billion people in India, this test coverage is not going to reflect the ground reality, the health expert said.
Dr Priya Luthra, principal investigator in viral diseases research and translational science program at Trudeau Institute in New York, said, “First, the number of overall testing is very low in India, and so we are far from the real number of total cases here. What we have seen from data in other countries is that a large part of the population is asymptomatic or has a mild infection. A recent study published in the British Journal Medicine suggested that 78 per cent of people with Covid-19 have no symptoms. So this has a huge impact on the overall number of confirmed cases.”
Thus, testing is the only tool that reveals the actual number of infection, symptomatic and asymptomatic, and how fast the deadly virus is spreading. According to ICMR, India has tested about 203 people for every million population as of Wednesday.
“Ultimately we need widespread serology testing (antibody test) that will be able to give a better approximation of the total number of infections”, Dr Luthra further suggests.
Health authorities are tracing the contacts of confirmed cases across India with the existing surveillance network. As of now, more than 31,000 suspected cases have been located, which have a link with identified confirmed cases. Authorities have found more than 5,000 confirmed cases through such surveillance alone.
India is tracking and tracing more than 5 lakh people in 36 states and Union territories. Nearly 23,000 are admitted in hospitals on an alert basis. Samples of 79,000 people have been taken, where more than 8,000 were found positive as of Thursday through the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), a strong network of health workers, sources said.
Unlike South Korea, Indian health officials have opted mass surveillance strategy and only test those people who have come in contact with the infected person and may develop Covid-19 symptoms. Authorities, facing a shortage of testing kits, are struggling to cover with surveillance approach along with lockdown.
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