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COVID-19: India’s Testing Rate Lower Than Other Nations, Says WHO Chief Scientist

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Noting that lockdown was a temporary measure to contain the spread of coronavirus, a senior official of the World Health Organisation on Tuesday said India has a low testing rate when compared to some of the countries that are successfully trying to curb it.

The Chief Scientist of WHO, Soumya Swaminathan, in an interactive session through video conference, said that about 28 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are under clinical trial, of which five are entering Phase-II and over 150 candidates are in pre-clinical trials across the globe.

India as a whole, the testing rates are much lower compared to some of the countries, who have done well like Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan. Even the United States is testing a huge number of people. So we need to have some benchmark and every public health department needs to have benchmarks on what is the rate of testing per lakh or per million, what is the test positivity rate.- Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of WHO.

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Without an adequate number of tests, fighting the virus is like “fighting fire blindfolded,” she pointed out.

According to Swaminathan, the number of tests being conducted is not adequate if the COVID-19 test positivity rate is above five per cent.

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Governments need to constantly monitor the availability of beds, quarantine facilities, ICUs and oxygen supplies in district hospitals.

So there is a set of 8 to 10 indicators that the government needs to keep a close watch on. And you can ramp up or ramp down based on what you are seeing on the ground.- Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of WHO.

Observing that the scientists’ community was still studying the body’s immune response to coronavirus and the next 12 months were crucial to putting in place the public health and social measures, she said the virus has spread to every country in the world and “established community transmission”.

“We know that lockdowns are temporary measures or a temporary measure which reduces the spread because it prevents people from getting closer together and the idea of the lockdown is to buy time for the government to put in place the system needed to tackle the virus,” the WHO official said.

On the ongoing vaccine trials, she said the WHO has issued guidelines on it and if the efficacy rate of the vaccine is 70 per cent, then it is considered to be a good one.

On the COVAX facility, a mechanism designed to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, Swaminathan said by the end of 2021 it is aimed to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification.

All the 194 member countries of the WHO need to come together and decide on how they want to proceed for the equitable and fair distribution of vaccine (once successfully comes out) and other products that are being developed for COVID-19, she opined.

Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Biotech, which is into developing Covaxin, a vaccine candidate for COVID-19, said the Centre needs to decentralise some of the regulating authorities such as Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO for faster approvals.

Telangana Minister for IT and Industries KT Rama Rao acted as a moderator for the session titled The Vaccine Race- Balancing Science and Urgency.

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