India Ramps Up COVID-19 Testing as Portable Medical-Grade Refrigerator Deployed in Three States

© REUTERS / RUPAK DE CHOWDHURIThe spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kolkata Municipal workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant in a residential area during a nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kolkata, India, April 29, 2020.
The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kolkata Municipal workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant in a residential area during a nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kolkata, India, April 29, 2020.  - Sputnik International
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New Delhi (Sputnik): India has 733 districts, which have been divided into hotspots. The country of 1.3 billion has so far recorded 42,532 positive COVID-19 cases, of which 29,453 are active, as per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The “unseen enemy” novel coronavirus has challenged the existing health infrastructure and technology across the globe and the challenges brought by the virus have been no different for India, which spends 0.7 percent of its annual national income on science and technology and 3.7 percent on health care.

While scientists in labs around the world are looking for a vaccine and reliable method of treating COVID-19, a small-time start-up from the city of Manipal is changing the testing scenario in 733 districts of India.  

A worker wearing a protective suit disinfects the interior of a passenger train after it was converted into an isolation facility amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the outskirts of Kolkata, India, April 6, 2020.  - Sputnik International
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Blackfrog Technologies has developed Emvólio, a portable vaccine transportation technology which is currently being used as a platform for last-mile transport of COVID-19 specimens. Its mission is to improve the provision of high-quality medical care, according to CEO Mayur Shetty.

Shetty tells Sputnik: “Emvólio is a portable medical-grade refrigerator (with an error of less than 0.5 degrees Celsius) for the last-mile transport of blood, vaccines, serums and other biological samples, which demand strict cold chain practices”.

The project is backed and funded by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) – under the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Government of India. It began as a portable vaccine transportation device in 2017 but with its successful completion in 2019, its services have come in handy during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“The startup plans to leverage this technology in mitigation of the current COVID-19 crisis by helping improve the accuracy of testing, encouraging home-based testing and positioning the product in such a way that it is ready to be deployed when the vaccine for COVID-19 is launched for mass-immunisation,” says Shetty regarding the future plans for the technology.

Currently deployed in three Indian states, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand, the device has a total holding capacity (cold-chamber) of 1.5 liters. “It can contain 25-35 COVID-19 specimens (nasal/throat swabs),” he says.

India currently has a testing facility at 280 government labs and 90 private labs, where samples are brought from different places for testing. India is currently making around 50,000-60,000 tests a day while it needs around 200,000 tests.

The technology, which has not yet reached industrial level production, costs US$594 to $660 (Rs45,000 to Rs 50,000) and the scale of production will be 100 units by September and 500 by December, Shetty says. He credits Invest India's AGNIi, under the ministry of commerce and industry, for the timely commercialisation of the technology. 

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