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India’s at-home Covid test is priced out of reach for most Indians

A healthcare worker takes a nasal swab sample from a shepherd girl for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test in Nawroz Baba village
Reuters/Danish Ismail
Most Indians are left out of at-home testing.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated

As Covid-19 continues to set records for cases and deaths in India, the country finally has another tool to combat the spread: a test that can be taken at home.

The antigen test, called CoviSelf, is produced by Pune-based MyLab Discovery Solutions, and was approved on May 19 by the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR).

As the number of cases has risen in India, the country faced shortages in testing. MyLab Discovery Solutions is one of the labs processing tests that has been overwhelmed with demand, and hopes to produce 7 million of the at-home kits per week, going up to 10 million, to help fill the diagnostic need.

The test can be purchased online or at pharmacies without a prescription. It is fast, well-designed, and even linked with an app for traceability. It’s also priced far out of the reach of most Indians, particularly those who need it the most.

An at-home test only for a few

“This will immensely help in early and quick detection which is key to the treatment,”said K Sudhakar, the medical education minister of the state of Karnataka, on Twitter. He shared the government’s guidelines for use, which include instructions to download the mobile app, a warning on safe disposal of potentially contaminated waste, and links to written and video guidance for use in English and Hindi.

Rapid at-home testing is important to identify existing cases while avoiding unnecessary exposure to testing sites, to contain the outbreak, and to improve on the country’s poor performance in data and tracking. Yet the test is very limited in its potential reach. Priced at Rs 250 per test (about $3.40), it is just above the average daily income of Rs 271.

The high cost even more striking in poorer rural areas, which are experiencing an especially dire state of emergency. The rural male worker‘s daily income is below the price of the test Rs 224, and a rural female worker‘s Rs 120.

There is also an issue of technology. Only about 42% of Indians have smartphones, which are necessary to take the test, and only about half the country speaks Hindi or English (although instructions are available in other languages, on the MyLab’s website), or has access to an internet connection.

In an email, MyLab said CoviSelf’s price was set to cover its costs to produce the test. So far the government has not offered subsidies, which could expand access to the test.

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