Tharoor slams govt over faulty antibody test kits, calls for indigenous production
New Delhi, Apr 24: Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Friday attacked the government over reports of India getting faulty rapid antibody test kits from China and asserted that the answer to the problem lies in indigenous development of test kits as done by countries like the US, South Korea and Germany.
India's apex medical research body ICMR on Tuesday advised states to stop using the rapid antibody test kits till it examines their quality in the wake of complaints that they are not fully effective.
Last week, India procured five lakh rapid antibody test kits from two Chinese firms and they were distributed to several states reporting rising cases of the coronavirus infection.
Reacting to the reports of faulty test kits, Tharoor said he read comments on social media over the issue stating that what can the Modi government do about it as other countries also had the same experience.
"Yes, that's exactly the point. How smart is a government if it does not learn from the mistakes of other governments. Isn't it foolishness to make the same mistake at the cost of public health and money?" Tharoor said in a series of tweets.
The EU Medicine Agency’s guidelines, on par with the US Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), require that rapid tests be 80 per cent accurate and the Chinese kits bought by India have shown an average of five per cent accuracy, which is the lowest by their own standards, he said.
Noting that China said that the kits should be procured from authorised manufacturers, Tharoor highlighted that one of the companies that India ordered from is the same company that the UK government had ordered and then rejected for being flawed. The British are seeking a USD 20 million refund from the two Chinese companies, Tharoor said.
"Spain, with one of the largest counts of positive cases, returned around 600,000 faulty kits to China. Czech and Filipino authorities also discarded testing kits imported from China, claiming they had only 20 per cent & 40 per cent accuracy respectively. Slovak PM: 'throw straight into the Danube'," Tharoor tweeted.
"We have options: The answer lies in indigenous development of test-kits, as USA, South Korea and Germany have done. Indians are no less capable but has the government been smart enough to facilitate it?" he asked.
There are two successful initiatives from Thiruvananthapuram, with which, Tharoor said, he is closely associated. These are the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) and the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), both Indian government centres of excellence.
"SCTIMST's RT-LAMP test, a conclusive, yet faster and cheaper test which can replace expensive and time-consuming RT-PCR tests, and RGCB's antibody rapid test kits (the kind we have now imported from China and found faulty) are still awaiting ICMR approval. Why is the government dragging its feet?" Tharoor asked.
"In this emergency, ICMR should be taking decisions in hours and days, not weeks and months! We had given Rs 1 crore funding to SCTIMST from MPLADS on March 30. Since then their kits are ready, trials have worked. RGCB too. But ICMR is unable to move at the rapid pace required. Why?" the Congress leader asked.