“Testing, vigorous testing is the key to defeating the pandemic” – that was the World Health Organisation's motto as half the globe was wading in the dark when the COVID pandemic broke out in 2020. Yet, a year later, it seems that India's testing hasn't been able to keep up with the second wave of COVID.
In the first wave, India managed to dramatically amplify its daily tests from some 38,000 tests at the beginning of June 2020 to at least 10 lakh daily tests by August. Comparatively, during the second wave, when the country has been adding one or two lakh cases daily, we've conducted less than 20 lakh tests a day for the majority of April and May.
But insufficient testing could have some serious ramifications.
Firstly, given that the majority of India's population remains unvaccinated, there's but one way to keep the infection in check – testing, tracing and isolating.
Secondly, as case rates appeared to be stabilising in some parts of the country, recently the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare informed that the positivity rate in 382 out of the 741 districts in the country, is still over 10 per cent. What this high positivity rate could indicate, according to experts, is that either the number of tests that are coming back positive is too high, or that the number of total tests being conducted is too low.
Obviously, there’s no knowing how many people are COVID-positive at a given time, but a higher positivity rate indicates a higher transmission of the virus. And if we're not testing enough, we may not be able to detect new cases of community transmission.
So, can we even get the full picture of what is happening in the country, or be able to bring down the second surge successfully if we don't test sufficiently? Considering that epidemiologists are saying that newer waves are inevitable, in what ways could India strengthen its testing strategy, so that the infrastructure doesn't get overwhelmed in the coming waves?
Our guests for this episode are Prof NK Ganguly, former Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research; Mr Sarang Deo, Professor of Operations Management at the Indian School of Business and Executive Director-Max Institute of Healthcare Management; and Manisha Bhinge, Managing Director of Health Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation. Tune in to The Big Story!