Hyderabad’s high COVID-19 positivity rate worries experts

Telangana State Disaster Response and Fire Services Department workers sanitise the area surrounding Charminar in Hyderabad, to prevent the spreading of COVID-19

Report points to abysmally low testing rates in the State of Telangana Amidst apprehension that COVID-19 community transmission may be under way in large urban cities, Hyderabad’s high COVID-19 positivity rate (32.1% on June 23), the highest among major infected cities in India, coupled with low tests per 10 lakh population compared to other cities has been repeatedly red-flagged by worried Central government experts.

Pointing to the abysmally low testing rates in Telangana, the report ‘Testing Status: Hyderabad and Telangana’ accessed by The Hindu notes, “Only 1 out of 19 private labs in Telangana is conducting more than 500 tests per week and testing in Telangana is heavily focussed on Hyderabad. Tests per 10 lakh population in other highly infected districts (Ranga Reddy, Sangareddy, Warangal Urban and Jagaon) is extremely low.”

The document adds that Telangana has the highest positivity rate (June 10-23) in India (27.7%) and consistently ranges from 20 – 40% daily with the lowest tests per 10 lakh population (June 10-23) in India.

“All COVID-red States are being closely monitored and have been instructed to hike testing. Testing is vital to map out the growth and concentration of the virus in the general population. Several States have been instructed on this multiple times,” said a senior government official with ICMR who added that letters were issued to all States recently asking them to ramp-up COVID-19 testing.

The ICMR also has noted that COVID-19 escalation is sharpest in urban cities with Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai and Chennai, also witnessing significant rise in the spread of the virus and added that Telangana has been repeated told to improve its testing scope and reach.

Bringing in the contrast, a senior health official added that neighbouring Andhra Pradesh is testing over 12,000 persons/day and also ramping-up testing to maintain a low mortality rate. “Andhra Pradesh has 336 TruNat machines and 42 labs for COVID-19 testing while Telangana has 21 machines and one lab,” the official added.

According to the Health Ministry, a Central team led by Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, in the Ministry is now in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana to interact with the State officials and coordinate with them to strengthen ongoing efforts for management of COVID-19 there.

The Ministry added that they are expanding the COVID-19 testing labs network across the country, ICMR has inducted 11 new labs in the last 24 hours and the country now has 1,016 diagnostic labs dedicated to COVID-19 which includes — 737 in the government sector and 279 private labs.

“At present, India has Real-Time RT PCR based testing labs — 560 (Govt: 359 + Private: 201), TrueNat based testing labs : 369 (Govt: 346 + Private: 23) and CBNAAT based testing labs : 87 (Govt: 32 + Private: 55),” said ICMR.

‘Bring all helathcare facilities under one umbrella’

Meanwhile, in a statement issued by 26 national and Karnataka-based civil society organisations including Naavu Bharathiyaru Karnataka, All India Drug Action Network, All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Karnataka and Campaign for Dignified and Affordable Healthcare (CDAH), the group has noted that in order to successfully curtail the pandemic, a whole health systems approach is sorely required. This is missing in the current approach where provision of healthcare is seen in a segmented manner. There is a dire need to bring public, private, charitable, medical colleges, corporation facilities under a single umbrella with transparent and well-functioning referral and reporting mechanisms, said the group.

It added that the government could use the COVID-19 situation as a good opportunity to improve the reporting and assisted referral mechanisms from the various public as well private facilities so that the patients are not distressed going from one hospital to another and the treatment given to COVID-19 patients must be in strict adherence to Standard Treatment Guidelines, which should be issued by an appropriate government agency.