Gurugam-based, SRL Diagnostics, is one of the many private laboratories approved by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Arindam Haldar, CEO, SRL Diagnostics, in an email interaction with Jescilia Karayamparambil, shares the role of private laboratories in the fight against Coronavirus.
What is the capacity of SRL Diagnostics in case of testing COVID 19 patients?
ICMR has approved three of our laboratories to conduct these tests and we have already initiated testing at two of our reference laboratories in Mumbai and Gurgaon. Amongst private lab chains, SRL probably has the highest number of RT PCR machines installed across its system, and most of these laboratories are also NABL approved. Our immediate capacity is about 1,000 tests per day, which can be significantly scaled up two to three fold, if need arises. We are currently using a small fraction of this capacity.
Are there people coming to conduct other tests in your laboratories? Or your main business is completely hit?
Our business has been on a sharp decline since mid-March. With the recent lockdown declared, we are seeing walk-in and Home collection (B2C) being significantly affected.
Also, logistical challenges to move samples around, with lockdown of inter state and intra state movement, stopping of OPD services and elective surgeries at hospitals and clinics, corporates working from home, etc.
B2B business is also equally affected. However, the long term diagnostics story remains the same and this is more of a short term impact that we are currently experiencing. We also foresee some pent up demand due to lockdown.
There was some delay in recognising testing laboratories. How much has it hurt the fight against Covid 19?
The ICMR scientists had communicated that the government laboratories have enough capacity to test more suspected coronavirus samples.
However, the private players were roped in irrespective, so it would be unfair to say there was a delay in recognising testing laboratories, at this time of national crisis. With the private sector coming in, the accessibility will increase drastically and it will prove vital in combating the disease.
The decision to open up 124 government laboratories, 49 private laboratories and close to 16,000 collection points is in the right direction. The government’s efforts in a widespread country like India are commendable.
There has been a shortage in kits. But is it a hurdle right now? (Considering many people have not really come forward to test)
The private lab testing has just begun and it will definitely take a while for the supply chain to become smooth. Perhaps the biggest challenge currently is the lockdown, which means movement around the country is restricted.
The other big challenge is the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We have not been able to extend our home collection services effectively due to shortage in PPE. We are doing tests in hundreds versus a capacity of thousands a day due to all of these challenges together.
Who is providing kits to SRL? And how many kits have you called for?
For private laboratories, the government has shared a list of approved kits/categories of approved kits. ICMR guidelines describe the kits that we can use in India for COVID-19 testing. We are in constant touch with various vendors – Altona, MYLAB, US FDA/CE IVD kit manufacturers – on current and future requirements. We have been able to procure some supplies which can last for a few days and are expecting further supplies soon.
If you want to encourage more people to come forward to take tests. Wouldn't the price factor of the testing play a critical role? Isn't Rs 4,500 expensive for Indian residing in slums?
The government has made sure various options are available to people. There are more than 100 laboratories of the government, where tests are done for free and then there are paying people who can come at the private laboratories as well.
So I don’t think it is a limitation, because this anyway is a price-controlled test and it is just about the cost of conducting this test. As a matter of fact, the price for Swine Flu tests is almost the same, if anything then the cost of doing this test is slightly higher than doing the Swine Flu test.
We do have patients who come in and do Swine Flu testing all the time, so I don’t see that as an issue. We are conducting confirmatory tests at a government defined price of Rs 4,500 and not making any profit on this price.