Mumbai: High tech COVID-19 lab, VITAL, life-saving set-up for patients

Updated: 21 October, 2020 07:13 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Built in 22 days flat, the lab housed in a container at BKC's jumbo COVID centre has helped doctors make timely interventions and bring down mortality rate

The laboratory has been set up with the assistance of the National Institute of Virology, Pune
The laboratory has been set up with the assistance of the National Institute of Virology, Pune

A first of its kind, indigenously built, high tech Virus Immunology Testing Advanced Laboratory (VITAL), has become a life-saving setup for COVID-19 patients admitted at the jumbo centre in BKC, as the crucial wait time for test reports has come down drastically from hours to minutes. This makeshift advance testing facility that began on October 4, has been built by converting a cargo container, with high end equipment and machines, into a specially designed laboratory with the assistance of the National Institute of Virology, Pune.

Crucial tests viz. D-DIMER (to test a blood clot), IL-6 levels (Interleukin-6 is a cytokine, protein that helps body regulate immune response), Hormonal Assay (for hormone imbalance), tumour marker (proteins made by body healthy cells and found in blood, urine or body tissue), other than routine blood tests have become faster due to this lab.

Staff at work inside the  Virus Immunology Testing Advanced Laboratory
Staff at work inside the Virus Immunology Testing Advanced Laboratory

Of the seven COVID-19 jumbo centres in the city run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the BKC COVID Centre is the largest make shift hospital with 2,100 beds, of which 960 beds are high flow oxygen beds. Also the centre has an inbuilt facility of 108 ICU beds. Only symptomatic patients are admitted at the centre and since its inspection on May 18 till date, over 10,000 COVID positive patients were treated and discharged. At present 582 patients are in the oxygenated wards, while 62 patients are admitted in the ICU at the centre.

Suresh Kakani, additional commissioner (Health) said, "The new makeshift laboratory at the jumbo BKC centre is a classic example of bringing an advance technological set up closer to patient care, which only helps in better care and to bring down the mortality numbers drastically. This is possible as the much-needed tests reports are available within a span of 20 minutes instead of waiting for eight to 12 hours like before."

The VITAL was set up through CSR facility, and tests for patients admitted to civic-run COVID centres are done free here
The VITAL was set up through CSR facility, and tests for patients admitted to civic-run COVID centres are done free here

He said, "We could have set up a permanent laboratory, but it would have taken two to three years time and more manpower would have to be put in to make it operational. This makeshift state-of-the-art laboratory was not only cost effective but also could be made operational within a short span, for better patient care."

When asked to elaborate, Kakani said, "All our samples collected are barcoded, with patients personal details and contact numbers. The sample once brought to the laboratory is tested and within a few minutes, the reports are flashed through the integrated computerised network to the patient, the mobile phones of the treating doctors and even at the jumbo centre care unit, to medical staff and doctors at the same time, so they could plan better patient management."

When asked if the BMC intended to extend the laboratory facility to other COVID jumbo centres and civic-run hospitals, Kakani said, "We have made specific arrangements for collection of samples from each of the COVID-19 centres, BMC-run hospitals and government hospitals through the day as per the time slots given, so that the laboratory can be utilised to its optimum capacity. The same tests would cost a few hundreds to thousands in a private laboratory. With the new high tech laboratory, there will hardly be any cost for the corporation as the consumables required for testing cost little. We will also be providing free of cost testing to the COVID-19 patients under our care in any jumbo centre or civic-run hospitals. The reports will also be emailed or sent through the computerised integrated system, which will be time saving."

Asked if they have worked any model to charge the other centres for the consumables usage, Kakani said, "Since the exchequer is one (BMC) there is no point in making unwanted charges to the jumbo centres or civic hospitals for the samples that they send. And hence we are keen to have hassle free services in the larger interest of patient care."

Kakani added, "We have been on the receiving end for some lapses or gaps, but healthy criticism is always welcome. We are indebted to providing quality patient care and fighting the pandemic, with available resources and setting up of this make shift laboratory, is a part of the same."

Highly placed sources within the civic corporation said that make shift VITAL was the brainchild of Dr Rajesh Dhere, the dean of the BKC jumbo centre. He not mooted the idea to superiors at the BMC, but roped in the right people. The entire set up was done through CSR facility.

Dr Dhere said, "In a pandemic situation, it is team work and patient care that matters. I am glad that both Suresh Kakani, additional commissioner (Health) and Subodh Jaiswal, additional commissioner and jumbo centre in charge, not only liked the concept but they guided us and ensured that it was doable, by providing the required sanctions, within a short span."

Dr Dhere added, "If we have such hi-tech and indigenous laboratories, we can get more accurate results within minimum time, so that treating doctors can immediately decide on further advance line of treatment for best patient care. We are overwhelmed with the support of all those who stood beside us and made this possible."

The container was refurbished by an Andheri-based company known for modifying cargo containers. The laboratory interior has been galvanised with pure steel, with special coatings, making it sterile and dust proof. The flooring has been made with special bacterial resistant fibres. A team of experts from National Institute of Virology, Pune helped in setting up the laboratory.

All equipment and machines in the laboratory are integrated with a special software, 'superdoc.' The entire process, from collection of sample to submission of report, is through the integrated networking system. "The only extra time needed would be the transport time to get the sample from any civic-run centre in the city to the BKC centre, and the report time would take a mere 20 minutes," explained Dhere.

He added, "Approximately 100 samples can be tested in each of the machines, and as per our estimate, within 24 hours we will be able to check almost 4,000 samples per day. At present we are testing only 600 samples."

Attempts made to contact Subodh Jaiswal, additional commissioner and in charge jumbo centres did not yield results.

Laboratory made in 22 days

Virus Immunology Testing Advanced Laboratory (VITAL) was ready by October 4 and it is 72 feet in length and 14 feet in breadth. It has an inter-locking facility with inbuilt sensors, which helps maintain air tight negative pressure. It also has an auto fumeless fumigation system, which fumigates the entire laboratory automatically every four hours. The laboratory has six air conditioners with HVAC and AHU facility, and has hepafilters, usually used in Operation Theatres (OT) of hospitals for viral and bacterial filtration.

9,212
No. of haematological and biochemical tests done at the lab till Oct 20

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First Published: 21 October, 2020 07:05 IST

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