We can divide the world’s timeline or especially healthcare’s into two eras, Before COVID (BC) and After COVID (AC). COVID-19 virus is still a very mysterious one and the world is still very far from 100 percent cure against it but with effective prevention, it can be curtailed to some extent. In this whole scenario, testing plays a very significant role in both prevention and cure.
Before COVID (BC), we didn’t know really how to test a COVID-19 suspect. Today, when India has been hit by two waves of the pandemic, the testing methods, probes and the subsequent treatment are now known even in the remotest areas. In the past, RT-PCR was confined only to few big healthcare institutes, now it has become nearly universal.
Earlier, testing was considered as only a diagnostic probe that was prescribed by the doctors to confirm the disease. However, with COVID-19, testing has emerged as a preventive tool and probably it will also help to check the spread of other diseases too.
COVID-19 brought about a drastic change in the testing scenario for India. An increase in COVID-19 cases in India had a profound impact on laboratory operations. While the volume of the laboratory tests related to COVID-19 diagnostics and management went up exponentially, the volume of overall laboratory testing decreased substantially as people are scared of catching infections in laboratories. However, the second wave has caused many post-COVID complications leading to a higher number of tests to ascertain different health parameters of an affected individual.
Testing has become the main source of taking key decisions for the government, corporates among others. For example, on the basis of serosurveys and positivity rate, the Union and state governments are taking decisions on vaccinations while the companies are insisting on a negative COVID-19 test report. RT-PCR, RAT, genome sequencing, CT scan among others are now common and also in reach of the general public by which they can test for COVID-19.
Today, we are testing lakhs of people across the country and are also successful in checking the spread of COVID-19 to some extent. The higher the number of testing due to the enhancement of testing capabilities, the government will be in a better position to check the spread of the virus. Now genome sequencing is becoming an effective tool in this direction and we are hopeful that it will also help us even in the After COVID era to understand future challenges too.
The government reacted very sharply in the first coronavirus wave but after getting some hard lessons from second wave mismanagement, it left no stone to be unturned in creating a responsive system. Oxygen plants, ICUs, pediatric ICUs, home testing kits etc. are a few of the areas where the government has shown its commitments.
The approval of home testing kits is a revolutionary step towards stopping the spread of coronavirus where a person can easily check the COVID-19 status without much involvement with the outer environment.
Establishing CT scan units in the remotest parts of the country will certainly help prevent COVID-19 spread and tackle other respiratory diseases. According to a CDC report, the number of tuberculosis cases in 2020 came down by 20 percent and the reasons behind them are masking and detection of any infection in the early stages.
To support a health system, or the coronavirus management system, in particular, a stable economy and revenue enrichment are very important. Testing opened a new dimension for our healthcare services and has given an opportunity to the product manufacturers to excel. The government’s economic policies, export and import policies, and PLI schemes have boosted the morale of the industry.
There has been a drastic change in the testing process in the second wave of coronavirus as compared to the first one. The second wave was more devastating and very different from the last year’s surge in several ways, increasing worries and anxiety for everyone.
With the number of cases, testing also increased rapidly after the mid of March 2021. With the threat of the third wave already looming, the laboratories need to be prepared beforehand. Monitoring of the patterns of such pandemics can help in laboratory management, testing kits, staffing and test stewardship recommendations for managing resource and supply availability.
Laboratories now must take quick actions and be prepared for changes in testing around this time. The experience in the past waves, statistical analysis, high-quality communication skills, cooperation with administrations and a risk-based management system are the most reliable ways to manage and operate testing in the near future.
The author is Director at Star Imaging and Path Lab.Views are personal.