Testing Efforts Hit Manali As Labs Face Kit Shortages

Manali: The drive to scale up Covid testing in the popular tourist valley has been marred for shortage of viral transport mediums (VTMs), something essential for collecting and transport of the samples taken.

Dr Ranjit, block medical officer Manali said, “we are facing a shortage of VTMs as we never expected to conduct so many tests.” The medium contains the transport media in a tube as well as the swab used for collecting the sample.

“In Kullu we have never had such a load of viral infections so no one thought of procuring extra VTM kits. With the cases of coronavirus soaring we would need to ramp the quantity”, said the medical officer incharge of the district health.

Explaining the need for the kits, Dr Ranjit, block medical officer Manali pitched in, “VTMs are crucial to ensure that the virus structure remains intact.  The specimen of swabs needs to be collected in a liquid so that the virus structure remains intact.”

Coronavirus sample college procedure (Representative image)

Not just Manali or the state of Himachal Pradesh, laboratories across India are also facing acute shortage of nasopharynegeal (NP) swabs which are Q-tipped used to collect the specimen. They have an extra-long, flexible and thin shafts to reach the NP area in the nose. They are manufactured in such a way so as to reduce the likelihood of contaminating nucleic acids that might interfere with the testing, the doctor said.

Currently the Indian testing facilities are highly dependent on manufacturers in China for the NP swabs that are needed to collect the specimen. However, the shortage is likely to be a short-lived, as the country ramps up its own manufacturing capacities. “In next few months country should be able to manufacture 5 to 10 million VTMs,” said Dr Ranjit.

The raw material to make the specially designed commercial transport media was reportedly becoming hard to procure. “For manufacturing VTM we can get everything but swab raw material is not manufactured in India. The swab has a material which has to be imported, that’s one area where there are no manufacturers in India,” he added.

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

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