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Free lab tests soon: India drafting essential diagnostics list, will cap pricing
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India is drawing up an essential diagnostic list (EDL) to guide the government’s policy on providing basic and life-saving tests free at primary healthcare centres and public hospitals.

The list, expected to be ready next year, will also cap the prices of essential tests for private hospitals and labs, much like the national list of essential medicines does for drugs.

“The list will have a price ceiling for the essential tests for private players,” said Dr Kamini Walia, scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), who participated in the first national consultation meeting on EDL.

In India, there was a growing shift from infections to non-communicable diseases, so the list would also include tests for hypertension, diabetes, iron deficiency and haemoglobin levels, she said.

India’s list follows WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines recommendation that diagnostic tests are essential to “diagnose the disease or subpopulation for which certain medicines may be indicated, and to monitor the medication effectiveness or toxicity”.

The WHO essential diagnostics list, which is in the process of being formulated, focuses on priority areas such as tuberculosis, malaria, HIV, and hepatitis B and C.

In 1996, India came up with its first list of essential medicines based on WHO’s model list that had 279 medicines. This list was expanded to 354 medicines in 2003, 348 in 2011 and 376 in 2015. In 2016, coronary stents were also added to the list.

The working group would have to identify essential tests and ensure their availability at the primary healthcare level, Dr Walia said.

“The EDL will also have to work in synchronisation with the essential medicine list and promote effective use of medicines on it,” said Dr Walia.

The working group is also deliberating if there would be a uniform list for the entire country or different sets for different states, depending on the disease burden.

Nearly 50 experts and stakeholders were a part of the consultation on Monday, including the former ICMR director general Dr Soumya Swaminathan, who is now the WHO deputy director general.

The health ministry will now create a smaller working group to develop the essential diagnostic list.


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