Thursday, August 27, 2009

Delhi pvt labs begin swine flu tests

NEW DELHI:  Private labs opened their doors to swine flu testing on Thursday, giving Delhiites an alternative to government-run screening centres for
detecting the disease. Three private labs have begun testing for the flu while another is expected to launch the facility from Friday.
The city government on Thursday gave permission to the fourth private lab - Super Religare Laboratories (SRL) - to test for H1N1 influenza, triggering a price war of sorts. SRL has priced the test at half of what the other three approved labs are charging.
The state health department is working out a mechanism for reporting positive H1N1 cases discovered by these labs. Meanwhile, these private centres have started collecting samples for testing. One lab, Auroprobe, began on Wednesday itself when it collected four samples. On Thursday, Auroprobe collected close to 20 samples, Dang's lab had eight and SRL got 4-5 samples. Dr Lal's pathlab will start from Friday. All four labs are promising results within 48 hours.
The three labs approved for testing on Tuesday had unanimously decided to charge Rs 9,000 flat for the test. But SRL announced that it would do the same test for Rs 4,500. ``It is a national emergency and we can't be fighting over the cost of the test. The test is expensive, as the reagents, testing kits and other material are imported and we are not exempted from custom duty. It is costing us close to Rs 8,000 or more,'' said Dr Navin Dang, director, Dr Dang's Lab.
According to sources in AIIMS, it costs the government around Rs 4,000-Rs 5,000 for each test. ``The custom duty on reagents, enzymes, testing kits etc used by us is less as compared to what private labs have to pay. The cost is high as the material used in testing is very expensive. The cost of the test is also high because we have to test for at least four factors - influenza A, swine A, swine H1 and RnT,'' said a senior doctor at AIIMS.
On being asked about the drastic difference in pricing, Dr Sanjeev Choudhry, CEO, SRL, said, ``Profit margins in these tests are very low. Our price is low as we are buying the reagents and kits in large quantities. Our testing capacity is also more and there are several other factors that affect the cost of any test.'' Choudhry said SRL would soon press 10 mobile vans into service for collecting samples.
The other three labs say that they are not likely to bring down the cost of the test any further. ``When it is costing the government close to Rs 5,000, how can it cost the private sector less? We have worked out the price after much debate and can't bring it down further,'' said Dr Arvind Lal, chairman and managing director, Dr Lal's Pathlabs.
Said Dr Nimrat Bawa, director, Auroprobe lab, which is offering home collection service, ``Our people have to wear personal protection equipment while taking the sample. If we collect samples from home, the PPE has to be discarded after taking one sample. There is no way that we can bring down the cost.''
The state health department, meanwhile, is concerned about the reporting mechanism of positive cases found by these labs. On Thursday, a 80-year-old woman who was admitted at Max hospital in Saket, tested positive for H1N1 influenza. Her sample was tested at Auroprobe lab. She was shifted to RML hospital late at night. The state health department is working out a way to ensure that positive cases from these labs are sent to government hospitals for treatment.
``We have to address this problem. At present, private hospitals are not allowed to keep any swine flu patient. Now that these labs will be testing samples, we will ask them to advice the patient to go to a government hospital. It is the government hospital doctor who will decide whether the patient needs hospital admission or can stay in home quarantine,'' said Kiran Walia, Delhi's health minister.
The health department also plans to increase the strength of its tracking teams. ``We have asked these private labs to report positive cases to us and our teams will then visit patient. We are thinking of increasing the strength of our tracking team. It is clear that private hospital doctors can't treat swine flu patients,'' said Walia.

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