The growing storm over the time and money wasted by the Narendra Modi government in procuring rapid antibody testing kits for coronavirus from China , which have now demonstrated a mere 5 per cent accuracy rate , points to serious failures of policy and decision-making on the part of the government and its favoured medical agency, the Indian Council of Medical Research or ICMR. At a time when coronavirus testing is widely acknowledged as vital, the inaccuracy levels of the Chinese kits have received international opprobrium. Spain, a severely coronavirus-afflicted nation with among the highest number of positive cases, returned around 6,00,000 faulty Chinese kits to the manufacturer, Shenzhen Bioeasy Technology. The British government, appalled by the poor performance of the kits it bought from China, wants a $20 million refund from two Chinese companies. But India went ahead and ordered from the same Chinese company — Guangzhou Wondfo — with which the UK government had a bad experience. In fact, there are two successful initiatives from reputable institutions in my own constituency, Thiruvananthapuram, with which I am closely associated as the local MP and also as a member of their governing bodies – the prestigious Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) and the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), both ‘centres of excellence’ recognised as such by the government. At this time of national emergency, when ICMR should be taking decisions in matter of hours and days, rather than weeks and months, there is a baffling dragging of feet in New Delhi. Since then, SCTMIST has moved rapidly, completed R&D, tested their product – and achieved a 100 per cent accuracy rate in trials – but the long-awaited certification from ICMR has still not come, without which the kits cannot be mass-manufactured. Meanwhile, SD Biosensor, a South Korean company, has started production of rapid testing kits in India, with a capacity to produce 5,00,000 per week. And this at a time when the world is turning away from China as a result of both mistrust in the government and fear of the reliability of their products, as well as out of a widespread desire to reduce dependence on Beijing.
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