COVID-19 Testing lab: To have or not to have
While the need for a COVID-19 lab in Nagaland is being heard loud and clear, medical experts say that any testing facility should follow all quality and safety guidelines. (Reuters File Photo)
Varying opinions but need for virology centre glaringly felt
Morung Express News
Dimapur | April 6
Two schools of thought have emerged pivoting around a non-existent laboratory in Nagaland with the capability to test/detect COVID-19 of the corona family of viruses.
On one side is an anxious public emphasizing an urgent need to have one here in the state and on the other is a section of medical professionals maintaining it is easier said than done.
The public’s argument is simple (and a sensible one too): “Having a laboratory of our own will do away with the trouble of transporting highly thermal sensitive swab samples over long distances to Imphal and Dibrugarh.” This rationale has further gained momentum with Manipur and Assam reporting COVID-19 positive cases, which, according to public opinion, implies that the laboratories would give higher priority to samples from their own states than of another.
On the other end are medical professionals, who maintain that rushing things up would not serve the intended purpose. “Quality and safety also has to be considered while proposing such a project. No lab technician or researcher would want to work if safety is not guaranteed,” said one doctor on condition of anonymity.
“We have a PCR machine. We can hurry and come up with a makeshift facility but a laboratory with a BSL2 or BSL3 rating cannot be housed in a makeshift facility. In my opinion, we have to follow all the guidelines and look at the long term prospect of turning it into a centre of excellence,” he added.
Provided all things fall into place and there are no unforeseen hitches, he said that it would take no less than six months to set up one permanent facility.
According to him, the Indian Council of Medical Research was interested in setting up one Virology centre in Kohima but it was delayed because “we could not provide the land.”
Now, if the state government has the will, he said that the ICMR can set up a permanent research facility here and “we can be a part of it. We have only to gain.”
He further allayed apprehension about samples deteriorating while in transit. “The samples are encased in secure vessels. It can be kept upto 48 hours by maintaining the right temperature. We are following internationally accepted standard as far as transporting samples is concerned.”
Currently, it takes 12-24 hours from the time of dispatch to time of result arrival. “As long as we get the results on the same day, I feel that it is not a big issue,” he said, while adding that it would take more or less the same amount of time if it is done in Dimapur or Kohima considering the road conditions and preparations required. Further, Dimapur and Kohima are not centrally located if there happens to be a state-wide outbreak and samples are required to be brought from other districts, he said.
While the government goes about mulling, he said that considering the resources at hand or the lack thereof, the need of the hour is surveillance and prevention.
The challenges of fulfilling criteria notwithstanding, another doctor, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a COVID-19 detection laboratory is a must. “If we could have a testing lab of our own we can test the samples within a short time,” he said, while adding, “The more tests we do, the more we can identify and isolate people with the virus and contain spread.”
A third doctor analogized it this way, “Now, we are using somebody else’s kitchen. We cannot cook when we want to.”
If Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh can build Medical schools with virology centres, “what is wrong with our state?” he posed. While stating that funding from the Centre has not been a problem, he said that it is to do with the “working system here.” “So today, when we are in dire need of a testing centre, we have none at our disposal.”