Startups, corporates, and government must collaborate for coronavirus testing: Dr Velumani A, Thyrocare
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a grinding halt. The total number of cases worldwide have crossed 680,000, with over 32,000 deaths.
In India, the number of COVID-19 cases has touched 1,100, with over 20 deaths. With India crossing the 1,000-mark, more tests are needed. Several healthcare startups and diagnostic centres are working round the clock to ensure that they do everything they can to curb further spread of the pandemic.
Dr Velumani A, the Founder of Thyrocare Diagnostics, speaks about the need for multiple tests and the challenges unique to India.
He explains that given the cost constraints in the market, even with the test costing Rs 4,500, there is a loss of Rs 1000. But that doesn’t mean testing needs to stop; there needs to be a bigger push for tests.
Thyrocare is authorised by the government of India and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for COVID-19 testing. It has recently partnered with Practo, which lets individuals book the test online.
In conversation with YourStory, Velumani talks about what needs to be done to combat the current medical crisis that India and the world are facing.
Edited excerpts of the interview:
YourStory: What is the key problem in getting the COVID-19 tests done today?
Dr Velumani: Raw materials are scarce, so I can’t have a long-term plan. Even today, most of the raw materials and test kits are imported and there is a custom duty of 30 percent for the COVID kits, as they are in the category of reagents with customs’ duty. To top it, even local manufacturers are selling it at the cost with the added 30 percent. Since there is no choice, we are going ahead, but this needs a quick solution.
Next, even if I have to collect specimen, I don’t have personal protective equipment. Many are compromising and endangering themselves by collecting specimen without protective gear. We are currently working around rationing and that is not scalable.
Today, with China manufacturing for the world, after emerging from the disaster, we should have anticipated the shortage and started manufacturing way in advance. We are scaling up and are keen to contribute to this calamity as much as possible.
We are the single largest nationally networked facility with HR and logistics, and I am willing to do whatever possible. But we need to find quick fixes soon.
YS: Will telemedicine help detect people who are undiagnosed?
Dr V: Unfortunately, close to 90 percent of doctors have shut shop This is scary. If the medical community is so scared of the virus and doesn’t want to take the risk, they can work with telemedicine. Since the MCA has permitted telemedicine solutions, it will give a boost, but the problem so far is that the medical community has been against telemedicine. But that is now changing.
YS: What are the key COVID19 testing challenges you are facing?
Dr V: The problem is we have capability of testing with blood, and COVID isn’t a blood test. We need more people with capabilities in swab testing. The ratio of HR and training is 1,000:1 for blood : swab. Suddenly we need 1:1, and that is a challenge
All people involved in training and HR should hire unemployed delivery boys from Swiggy and Uber or Ola. If they are Class 10 pass, put them into training for swab collection; that doesn’t need any medical skill.
YS: What will help get the speed?
Dr V: If corporates get together, they can make it large. Instead of talking to one person, there is a need to get everyone involved. These solutions cannot be tested alone; the volumes of tests need to increase.
Now the other problem is logistics, if Guwahati collects a specimen, how do I get it in a lockdown?
Like I have been tweeting, please insist that every aircraft run 10 percent of their air fleet purely for cargo logistics. Next, tell all courier companies to use 20 percent of vehicles to connect to the airport.
We don’t know how long the lockdown is going to last and even if the lockdown is “unlocked”, with the reverse migration that has taken place, it will take another year to get people back.
This is a disruption at multiple levels. No one individual can handle it. The top 50 companies should make a consortium, not just of money but also the right kind of individuals, to influence the government and community on what should be done and how we can tackle it now.
Success has many fathers and mothers. As of today, it looks like we are very successful but god forbid it becomes a catastrophe; it will be a problem. So, we need to test more. For that, you need everyone to collaborate: startups, government, and the private sector.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)