news Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 05:30

Siddhartha Mishra| The News Minute| March 8, 2015| 11.00 am IST

On March 3, the Economic Times reported the development of India’s first indigenously manufactured swine flu kit by Molbio technologies.

Similarly, three years ago, a Down to Earth report mentions a new swine flu kit, developed by the DRDO and to be commercially produced by RAS Lifescienes Pvt. Ltd. in Hyderabad.

Swine flu has been rapidly spreading across various states in the country over the last few weeks. The disease has been claiming casualties across the country and a newspaper today reported the first confirmed case in Manipur. The virus has claimed 1,289 reported casualties thus far this year and according to statistics provided by the Health Ministry on March 5, the number affected by the disease stands at 23,922.

Diagnosing swine flu is a bit of a hassle and with the swine flu kits currently in use the process takes between three to six hours or maybe more. There are cases in villages from Jharkhand where samples to be tested have to be sent as far as Kolkata due to unavailability of these kits.

There have been reports last month of shortage of testing kits and drugs in many places including Bengaluru, and Central government promised investment of Rs 84 lakh towards procurement of these kits at the end of February. 

With the government still coping with the virus and mustering resources to control it from spreading, is it time to trust solutions closer to home yet ignored thus far.

“Our kits are approved by the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and we’ve obtained an NOC from the DCGI (Drug Controller General of India). In spite of the approvals, state governments are not adopting these kits,” says Shesheer Kumar, CEO of RAS Lifesciences, to the News Minute.

RAS- a molecular diagnostic manufacturing company now commercially manufactures the kit with DRDO technology indigenously. They are an entrepreneurial venture set up in 2008 and with a workforce of 32 employees manufacture the NuLAMP H1N1 kit for the detection of swine flu.

The company claims the portable kit can provide test results within an hour and costs almost a quarter of the price of the kits currently in use.

So what kits are being used by various state governments now? “The kits currently in use is are ones manufactured in the USA. They are approved by the WHO and by the Central government”, says Dr. Rita Maria, of Nimhans, Benguluru , to the News Minute. “Earlier, they were provided by the Centre, and then by the State governments”, she further clarifies.

It’s a fact confirmed by Dr. Arun Kumar, Professor and Head of the Department of Virus Research at KMC Manipal, the other centre in Karnataka where swine flu tests are conducted by the State government. “We’ve been using these kits since 2009, and they are provided to us by the Ministry of Health”, he tells the News Minute.

While some private hospitals have reportedly charge Rs 5000 for a test, the kits used during free government trials cost upward of Rs 2000 each.

In spite of attaining the necessary clearances, Kumar says that it has been a rough ride trying to convince state governments to take up the kits for use. “I personally put in a request to the Andhra Pradesh CM’s office for a clearance, but it never came through”, he says. “And when I approached the Gujarat government for permission they said that if I couldn’t get it passed in my home state, then it couldn’t happen here”, he adds.

While the NCDC refused to comment on swine flu kits, a state official at the Dept. of Health from Karnataka said that it was almost status quo for these same kits to be used and provided when asked for by testing centers.

“The efforts to approach state and centre have been futile”, says Kumar.

The point being that even after attaining necessary clearances, indigenous manufacturers are struggling to gain a foothold in the industry even after the Centre’s recent push towards in-house manufacturing.

The ‘Make in India’ initiative also included the bio-technology and pharmaceutical sectors under its umbrella but they could not have helped by the decision of the government to have 100 per cent FDI in medical devices. “It kills indigenous manufacturers like us”, Kumar agrees.

Make In India

“Taking up an entrepreneurial career in science is a big risk, we took up the challenge but couldn’t crack the code to be accepted in Indian market”, says Kumar. “This is mainly because of the directors sitting at helm of affairs and we’ll wait till somebody takes it forward”. “But who will bell the cat and make us participate in ‘Make in India’?” he asks.

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