The importance of Laboratory was understood when the deadly COVID-19 pandemic struck the whole world.
In India, where healthcare facilities are still in primary stage, this contagion came as a rude shock. People came to know about the important role of a laboratory as every swab sample collected was tested before certifying whether the patient is positive or negative.
In Mysuru too, the Government Laboratories were not designed to handle testing of an invisible virus but it worked swiftly in this direction by setting up two Labs to test the samples and give quick results.
At present, Mysuru has three COVID-19 Testing Labs — One at the Microbiology Department (on the premises of K.R. Hospital) in Mysore Medical College and Research Institute (MMC&RI); second one at JSS Hospital and the third is the CSIR-CFTRI Testing Centre.
Today, SOM features the two public institutions that have been providing services to the public free of cost since the outbreak. —Ed
Mysore Medical College and Research Institute
They have forgotten what leave or weekly off means as they are working without it for almost a year except for a brief period in February this year.
The working hours of these staff members go beyond 12 hours with or without break.
This is the story of Corona Warriors at Mysore Medical College and Research Institute (MMC&RI) RT-PCR Testing Lab which is functioning 24×7 since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March last year.
Understanding the importance of test result they give, a team of doctors and technical staff under the leadership of Dr. Amruthakumari, Nodal Officer, MMC&RI Laboratory, they have been working day and night racing against time.
“From March 2020 till March 2021, we have tested 5,60,000 samples with an average of 3,000 to 3,500 tests a day,” Dr. Amruthakumari told SOM.
She said the Lab works in four shifts including general shift from 9 am to 5 pm. Timing of three other shifts is: 7 am to 2 pm, 2 pm to 9 pm and from 4 pm till the day’s work ends.
Their work has increased ever since the unprecedented increase in Corona positive cases now. The number of testing has gone up to 3,500 samples daily due to testing of primary and secondary contacts of positive patients. The small team of dedicated staff has been handling the maximum number of samples daily to give test results within the mandated 24 hours.
“We have five teams within the laboratory — sample receiving team, extraction team, RT-PCR team, reporting team and data entry team. Once test result comes, it has to be uploaded to ICMR portal immediately. We were relaxed little bit in February this year with the positive cases hitting rock bottom. But after the spike in cases, our work has doubled. The laboratory receives around 4,000 to 4,500 samples collected from throughout the district but we can test only around 3,500 samples as the machinery does not have the capacity to handle more,” she said.
Dr. Amruthakumari said they were well aware as to how people will be tensed till they get RT-PCR report. Understanding their emotions, the lab staff are working beyond their time limit.
MMC&RI Dean and Director Dr. C.P. Nanjaraj said, “I am very proud about my team of doctors and technicians who are working day and night. Some data operators have gone on quarantine. Those who have been taken as stop-gap arrangement are given three to four days of training, before putting them on job.”
CSIR-CFTRI COVID Testing Centre
To deal with RT-PCR test samples from Taluks and other Centres, another laboratory, CSIR-CFTRI COVID-19 Testing Centre was set up at the Government Ayurveda Hi-Tech Panchakarma Hospital at Brindavan Extension (KRS Road) in city.
It was done as per the directions from Dr. Shekhar C. Mande, DG-CSIR, Dr. KSMS Raghavrao, former CFTRI Director and Dr. Sridevi Annapurna Singh, the current CFTRI Director, to support the District Administration and the State Government in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. Prakash M. Halami is the Coordinator and Dr. P.V. Ravindra is the In-Charge Coordinator-cum-Lab-In-Charge.
So far, this Centre has crossed the testing of 2,20,000 Covid-19 samples, a remarkable achievement since its inception in August last year. The Centre receives samples from TB and District Hospital, KR Nagar, Hunsur and Periyapatna taluks.
This Centre consistently tests around 2,000 samples per day with the support of two RT-PCR machines and one RNA extractor.
DC promises more staff
Speaking to SOM, Dr. Ravindra said “Earlier we were testing by pooling of samples, but with the increase in positivity rate more than 5 percent, testing is done for each sample that amounts to almost 2,000 reactions per day. This will be a burden on both machines as well as the workforce. In this direction, Deputy Commissioner (DC) Rohini Sindhuri has agreed to provide more human resources to strengthen our Centre. And District Health Officer (DHO) Dr. T. Amarnath also has deputed additional Data Entry Operators (DEOs) to our Centre. We have also requested the State to provide us one more RNA extractor and the RT-PCR machine to strengthen our Centre to handle more tests.”
Dry swab method
He said “We also plan to introduce ICMR approved, CSIR-CCMB developed, ‘dry swab method.’ This method has the advantage of doing direct PCR without RNA extraction. This will save a lot of consumables, time and as well as funds. We can also ramp up the testing numbers.”
“The primary issue we are facing is the salary for lab technicians, who get only Rs. 10,000 per month with a lot of risks involved, especially with an increased positivity rate. Further, deputed people also have to work at both places without remuneration. I request that the salary for technicians may be increased and deputed personnel may be provided with suitable remuneration. Also, the technicians may be provided with travel assistance, especially during his curfew period,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ravindra has expressed his gratitude to the DG-CSIR, CSIR-CFTRI Director, RBI-Mysuru branch, District Administration and the State Government for supporting the CFTRI Testing Centre financially and also for providing them an opportunity to serve the public during this Covid-19 pandemic.