Could ‘Antibody Test’ be a Game-Changer in India?

29-06-2020 16:55:15
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By Aditya Venketesh

(Columnist/Senior Blogger)

The month of July will see the unprecedented rise in number of COVID -19 positive cases and it will result in total chaos across the country. My assumption is that the number of positive cases will cross 10 lacs & more. As a result, it will give sleepless night to our frontline workers & will pose challenges to India's strained medical capacity and overburdened health care system. But what changed in last one and half month, where number of corona positive cases has gone more than 5 lacs?

Firstly, despite repeated calls by PM Modi and various medical experts to maintain social/physical distancing, wearing mask in public places, large sections of citizens appeared more careless rather than being more careful after the first two phases of lockdown. This lackadaisical approach of the masses is giving rise to the number of positive cases to an unrecorded high. Secondly, the ICMR's failure to push antibody test at least, in certain areas like Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore where screening program of antibody test could give a new twist to the COVID -19 story, at least fear could have been lesser among the masses. If antibody test is done especially, in bigger cities, the story of COVID-19 could have been different and it could give more teeth to the authorities in fighting this deadly virus.

Let’s first know what is ‘antibody’ test? It’s so simple, in antibody test, it says that you have got COVID-19 virus but you did not show the symptoms. Now let’s take the example of world's few prominent cities like Moscow, New York and London cities, where screening program of anti-body for COVID-19 was done in May 2020.

Antibody results of Moscow was released in the month of May and it showed that the official number of positive cases went up to 163000 thousands till May 15, but random screening of antibody test shows that actually, 1.6 million people have got the infection more than 10 times of the actual numbers. However, the death rate was measured about 1% till that time in Moscow but after antibody test the number was reduced to just 0.1%. The conclusion is very simple, 15 lac people might have been corona positive but they did not show any symptoms.

The antibody-test done in New York says that the number of positive cases may have been more than two million till the month of the march.

The Antibody test results from London, UK, estimated about 1.6 million to be CoVID positive till 23rd May, but not 26,000 as thought earlier (through RT-PCR testing). Death Rate now reduced from a massive, panic-inducing 23% to just 0.3%. So, it may be the story from different places if we go for screening program for antibody test.

Now, its almost certain that there is 10 times higher number of positive cases than what actually official is right now. Let’s take the example of Mumbai where number of positive cases till 26th June is 70990 and the cases of death is 4096. Now we assume that if random screening of antibody is done today, the number of cases could be around 700000 (just adding 10 times) and the death rate could be reduced from 3.57% to just 0.57 %. The death rate in COVID-19 cases could just be like flu that may be lower than even flu if considering antibody test data. This shows the importance of anti-body test, but what the ICMR is doing in this direction is still unknown. The screening program of anti-body could help the authorities in India & help to design a better-informed measure taken to contain the epidemic.

The biggest spike came from migrant’s movement, & giving rise to soaring number in smaller cities, however, less reported. In these states, testing is being done very slowly, in maximum cases the reports of the suspected patient are coming in 14-15 days, and in those days, suspected patient is roaming freely, no surveillance of administration on them and hence spreading infection in a rapid manner. I have one example of Assam where the last number I remember of active COVID-19 positive patients were less than 10, I realized on the basis of trend & various data that the number will come to an end in next 5-10 days, but all on sudden, the movement of migrants have started, as a result the active cases of corona positive have crossed 6000 marks. That is huge and alarming scenario in coming days. It’s happening all across the country and its going to give us scary picture of India in coming month.

Couples of things that the government can do right now, first, wearing mask should be made mandatory as in the USA, the States where masks are mandated in public have shown a 25% decrease in COVID cases. States where no face coverings were required had an 84% increase in COVID case. And secondly, the screening program of antibody test should be conducted in major cities, that will lessen the fear among the masses, and government could make a fair amount of good decision based on antibody test. The Antibody test could help officials discover who’s no longer at risk for developing the disease and it’s like immunity passport. The large section of society could be tagged as a safe with this immunity passport and could roam in the society without fear, however, the government has to do more in this area and research community should come forward with more credible data.


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