Had the Gujarat government accepted a proposal by Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) to install a nucleic acid based test (NAT) machine seriously, the 23 thalassemic kids in Junagadh who have been tested HIV positive after blood transfusion would possibly not have contracted the virus.
The NAT, considered to be one of the most modern of equipments, can also detect HIV virus in its window period, say experts. They add that in the now-prevalent Rapid Test or widely employed Elisa Test, which is a computer-based test, sometimes HIV virus is not detected during its window period in the sample blood taken by blood bank for testing. The window period is the time during which the presence of a virus is difficult to ascertain. For HIV, this period is 25 weeks.
Talking about their proposal two years back, Madhu Naik, chairperson of IRCS, Gujarat, told DNA that they had proposed to make available at least one NAT machine in one major city. The idea was that blood banks from the entire region could send donors’ blood samples for further tests there.
“For example, if one such machine is kept in Surat, other blood banks from south Gujarat region can send samples there. Since the machine is expensive, we didn’t receive any positive news from the Gujarat government and the project is stalled,” said Naik.
Experts associated with the blood banks and pathology labs in Ahmedabad emphasise that Junagadh-like incidents could be the result of failure of tests of donors’ blood. “Sometimes, if in a hurry, authorities also conduct Rapid Test that might not show HIV virus in the donor’s blood. Similarly, Elisa Test conducted on donor’s blood currently doesn’t screen HIV virus in blood in window period. So, NAT is the safest test and it’s not done in Gujarat,” said medical director of Prathama Path Lab, Jayshree Shukla in Ahmedabad.
The two experts were of the opinion that the NAT might prove to be an expensive test as it costs around Rs8,000. On the other hand, an Elisa Test costs between Rs300 and Rs600 and a Rapid Test Rs25 to Rs30. Naik however believes that it is the responsibility of not only blood banks but also that of donors and people who take the blood to have the blood tested.
Shukla says people should also insist on using disposable or new kit every time they go for blood transfusion. “As these kits are disposable, there are less chances of contracting HIV. But sometimes, poor people are victims of used set of syringe etc.
However, in majority of the cases, blood without incomplete tests is the reason for transmission of HIV,” said Shukla.
Minister of state for health and family welfare, Parbat Patel said, the issue of having NAT was discussed earlier but he was not aware of the present status of the proposal.