09 December 2010
By Pritha Chatterjee
New Delhi, India
New mechanism brings down testing window from six weeks to 11 days, already being used in AIIMS and RML
PLANS to introduce a more accurate HIV–testing method at the blood banks of at least two leading Delhi government hospitals are stuck in limbo. Sources in the Delhi Health department confirmed that the Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) mechanism, approved as a replacement for the presently used Enzyme–Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) technology in January this year, has not made much of a progress.
The project was announced through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model at the Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) and Lok Nayak Hospitals, with smaller blood banks of other government set–ups also attached to these nodal centres.
The method brings down the window of HIV testing from about six weeks to eleven days.
This is because while ELISA traces antibodies developed to the virus, the NAT detects the HIV antigen itself.
According to Dr A K Gupta, additional project director at the Delhi State AIDS Control Society (DSACS), which first approached the government authorities with this idea, "We had received complaints from some people living with HIV (PLHIVs) who claimed they got the virus after undergoing blood transfusion at government hospitals.
While they had a history of being administered blood, there was no concrete way of determining whether the virus came from the donated blood. But it was a serious allegation." Dr Gupta
added that DSACS gathered data to convince the government that HIV rates could be brought down by 1–2 percent by introducing NAT, before the project was given the green signal.
Under the PPP mode, private players would provide the consumables, equipment and the necessary staff to run the test on the hospital premises. According to Dr Bharat Singh, in charge of the State Blood Transfusion Council (SBTC), "We are still working to finalise the companies and the rates they will charge us per test. We hope to complete the work in the next few months." He added that no deadline has been set yet for these private players to actually start operations. "Private companies will handle the operations entirely. It is up to them to start as fast as possible," said Dr Gupta.
Sources added that the costs involved are responsible for the de
lay. "A single NAT test costs around Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000, when done on a mass scale. Private blood banks charge up to Rs 5,000 for this test. Working out a plausible plan to provide this test free of cost to government hospital patients is taking time,"said a senior official.
Incidentally, the NAT test has been made operational at two central government hospitals in Delhi over the last two years.
Where AIIMS pioneered the move in 2008, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital followed suit last year. According to Dr Kavita Chatterjee, in charge of the regional transfusion centre at AIIMS, "We trained our own staff and the equipment was sanctioned by the government.
For the last two years, we have been doing both NAT and ELISA tests to be doubly sure, and the project has proved completely viable."
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