Economist Says India Needs 2-3 Lakh Tests a Day to Beat COVID-19

Judicious isolation based on information is the need of the hour and for that India needs to ramp up testing.

Published24 Mar 2020, 08:10 AM IST
Coronavirus
2 min read

'Test, test, test,' was the message of the World Health Organisation director, if you are serious about beating coronavirus. India, though, is choosing a different path of barely testing. Economist Ajay Shah, senior fellow at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy warns that India should be testing aggressively, and taking serious decisions like lockdowns based on information and data. His estimate? 2-3 Lakh tests a day to really address the pandemic.

Elaborating on testing policy India that India has in place currently, he says "India is at the bottom of the world. And why is it important to test? In a word - economics." He adds that if one knows where the infected people are and where the vulnerable population is, we can make informed decisions and keep them apart.

"If we don't know where the pockets of infection are, we are forced to do more blanket bans, and that is more harmful for the economy," he adds.

Judicious isolation is the need of the hour.

In his words, the only way to implement this is to test 2-3 lakh people a day.

Role of Private Healthcare

Ajay Shah adds that we don't know how the pandemic will play out in India. But if we do reach a place where millions need hospitalisation, we need to plan on how to surge our healthcare capacity.

He adds that private healthcare has that capacity "The private sector is the dominant force in testing. Testing is standard procedure, there will be some shortage of reagents, some people may struggle to import reagents, but there is nothing difficult about doing COVID-19 testing and we have a large capacity for private testing."

Similarly, talking about healthcare he says that a large section of our healthcare is private. We have clinics, 40 bed hospitals, larger hospitals, facilities all over the country that account for a bulk of healthcare in the country.

Private hospitals have better capacity to build a new hospital if a need arises.

While private healthcare industry has several problems with quality and capabilities - the need of the hour is to recognise their capacity, he says.

Making Private Public Partnership Work

When it comes to health policy, we need to be thinking how do we tap this capacity, adding Shah.

One way is to have private companies produce the tests and the government pays them. There is a need for public funding, but production should be with the private sector.

He adds that there are barriers in how government has traditionally dealt with procurements, contracts and payments. The need of the hour is to overcome these barriers.

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