Until we have a permanent solution for Covid-19 or it becomes endemic in our population, other illnesses, unfortunately, will be neglected to some extent.
As the daily Covid-19 case load is hitting record high every other day, pathology laboratories are facing their toughest challenge to meet the soaring demand for the RT-PCR test to check for the infection. Amidst this, Diagnostic centres are working round the clock to improve the turn-around-time for reports, by adding more equipment and manpower to improve capacities. More labs are coming up and especially in the country’s eastern and northern regions where healthcare infrastructure is not up to mark. In an exclusive conversation with the Financial Express Online Dr G.S.K. Velu, Chairman & Managing Director, Neuberg Diagnostics Ltd., shared his views on the surge in Covid-19 cases and its impact on testing labs. They have also launched a RT-PCR ‘Drive through’ testing in Ahmedabad in collaboration with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. Excerpts:
The tremendous surge in COVID cases has amplified caseload on the diagnostics facilities. At Neuberg, how are you tackling this situation?
As the infection continues to spiral, we are working round the clock to accommodate most COVID testing requests we receive. While strengthening testing capacity we need to consider a multitude of issues related to volume, data monitoring, skilled human resource, and supply chain constraints. We are investing heavily on manpower, infrastructure, procuring equipment, and training human resources to cater to increased tests per day. We are planning to add 10 more labs to the existing network of 14 and are planning to set up more labs in the eastern and northern regions.
Our entire focus right now is to provide affordable and accessible tests to everyone. To achieve this, we are tirelessly working with all our partners while ensuring all safety protocols are followed.
Can you briefly tell us how the current situation is different from the first wave in terms of infrastructure and readiness?
We have observed two significant differences – an increase in the number of asymptomatic populations and more rapid spread of infection in this current wave. To cope with the increased workload, we have made reasonable progress. We have increased our testing capacity fivefold in comparison to the first wave. However, a lot needs to be done to reduce the stress we are experiencing currently.
What innovative methods are you undertaking to ramp up testing capacity and deliver results on time?
As mentioned earlier, we are hiring more manpower and training them meticulously to ensure smooth functioning. We have divided our staff into various shifts on rotation, so that the work does not stop at any point in time. While doing this, we also make sure that our employees are not overburdened, affecting the quality of work. Our committed TAT is 24 hours. We try to deliver most reports of samples collected in the morning by late evening or night on the same day. Very rarely, in case of repeat RT PCR of any sample due to technical issues, it may take some more time. With the steps we are taking to ramp up testing, we will try to reduce the TAT still further.
We have introduced various testing options based on customer convenience, such as home collection and Walk in Kiosk. In a novel experiment, we even launched RT-PCR ‘Drive through’ testing in Ahmedabad in collaboration with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). To expand the testing reach we have added two more drive through facilities in a span of just 15 days in Ahmedabad in association with AMC.
Centre has allowed private facilities to administer vaccination. Are you inoculating masses at your laboratory?
We were the first private lab to receive approval for administering vaccination to our employees at our Chennai facility. We managed to vaccinate more than a hundred people successfully. We have technically trained staff who can proficiently inoculate the population with utmost compliance. Currently, we are waiting for the government’s approval to administer vaccines for the public.
The requirement for COVID-19 diagnosis has overshadowed other diagnostic requirements. Your comments?
Yes, it has. This has been unfortunate as people with other illnesses have not been able to get the attention required. However, these days, we have seen several more requests for non-covid parameters as people who have chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, etc., need care.
Until we have a permanent solution for Covid-19 or it becomes endemic in our population, other illnesses, unfortunately, will be neglected to some extent because of fear in the mind of the public to step out and seek diagnostic services.
What are the key challenges you are facing today?
Since there is a drop in testing cost, we need to budget our materials, manpower and operations cost while ensuring flawless service with no compromise on TAT.