On 18 May 2020, India reached a milestone in combating COVID-19 by performing 100,000 tests in a single day. Starting from less than 100 tests per day simply two months prior, a 1000-fold growth in only 60 days was made possible by the aid of devoted teams from research institutions, medical colleges, testing laboratories, ministries, airlines, and postal services operating together.
The incredible tale of how India became completely self-reliant in its testing capabilities, regardless of starting from scratch, is one about the steely resolve of numerous agencies, operating collectively around the clock to save lives. Faced with an unparalleled challenge, both in aspects of technicalities and scale, Indian scientists had to innovate extensively, medical experts had to educate and research on the job, administrators had to coordinate numerous actions around the clock amid the demanding situations of national lockdown, and civil and defence aviation employees had to fly at the shortest of notices.
The fundamental principle to counter any infectious epidemic is to detect/isolate/treat/control cases early and avert the incidence of new cases. In the absence of an effective treatment program, prevention is the first-rate strategy, which revolves around testing. In numerous countries like India, for inclusive and equitable access to testing, optimization of resources, based on the evolving epidemic was a crucial part of sustainable scaling up.
The RT PCR test for COVID-19, despite the fact that being increasingly available across the country today, entails multiple, complicated steps. First, is the specimen collected by the use of throat or nasal swabs, which are then stored in a unique fluid referred to as viral transport medium (VTM). This is transported to the laboratory, wherein the genetic material of the virus is separated from the swab and transport medium by the use of an RNA extraction kit. Next, using another kit, an RT-PCR device detects the virus. To do this test, a constant supply of swabs, VTM, viral extraction kits, and PCR kits are required, for use via trained employees wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) in quality-assured laboratories.
Despite the lockdown, the manufacturing of VTM kits scaled up from 500,000 units in 12 months to 500,000 units per day. With its testing abilities now matching the most superior countries in the world, Indian establishments have risen to the event in an emergency. In the days ahead their contributions shall be required even more as India continues to grapple with the clear and present threat still posed by COVID-19.