Citizens of a Remote Indian Town Crowdfund to Start a COVID Testing Lab


A free COVID testing lab in a Public-Private Partnership in the city of Buldhana in Maharashtra by the relentless efforts of it’s citizens.

The residents of Buldhana wanted to start a COVID testing lab that would provide its services for free. The residents were crunching numbers to know what it would cost like to run a crowdfunded lab. Only to realize that they couldn’t operate it as the recurring costs would be way too high. However, they also noticed that they could raise enough funds to start one and would be able to sustain it if the government supports the operation. They needed a new model. A model that could combine the public and private spheres to leverage the strength of both. With a little more than a month’s relentless effort, this remote district in Maharashtra is about to witness a first of its kind initiative. A Covid-19 testing lab in a Public-Private Partnership (PPP). A model where the capital expenses would be raised by the public and the government would handle the operational costs.

They decided to set up testing labs in government hospitals to accomplish this. Doing so also meant they would have no constraints with the NABL (National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories). They wrote a letter to the ICMR( Indian Council for Medical Research) who looped them with AIIMS Nagpur. The latter has been an invaluable mentor to the team ever since. Fixing their sight at Khamgaon General Hospital in Buldhana, the work to establish the Buldhana District Lab began.

The permission for free Covid testing lab by the ICMR
The permission for free Covid testing lab granted to the team by ICMR

The first meeting was between donors, high network individuals, social workers, volunteers, and pathologists. Pathologists were a vital part of the equation, you need either a pathologist or a microbiologist to approve the final testing report. Buldhana didn’t have any. Yet, they had no problem finding one. The response from the community was overwhelming. Several doctors, pathologists, and microbiologists volunteered to help.

They called the vendor of the lab equipment in the second meeting itself. All donation cheques were directly made in the vendor’s name to maintain transparency. As processes started streamlining, the team decided to hand the baton of leading this project to Swapnil Gawande, a known social worker and activist in Buldhana. He runs a social welfare organization that has been conducting numerous social campaigns in and around the town.

The free COVID testing lab in Buldhana

Within no time, the team got to work. They started with civic repair and maintenance once they had access to the hospital. It was also noted that the doctors needed a training certificate to be eligible for conducting the tests. The team of doctors was then sent around 150 kilometers away to Akola, for a seven-day government training program.

Mr. Gawande and his team of more than 1700 volunteers were handling all the paperwork all this while. Constantly following up with government officials over phone and email. They also coordinated with the hospital medical superintendent to get the necessary bio-medical waste and hospital registration certificates in order. With everything in place, the team is now waiting for the machines to arrive. Which is expected to be delivered by July 2nd. In conversation with us, Mr. Gawande expressed his confidence to get the doctors familiar with the machines that very day. Post that, all necessary paperwork will be sent to AIIMS Nagpur for the final nod. The lab should be up and running in about a week.

 

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We had the chance to ask a few more questions to Mr. Gawande, read on to know his answers.

Q. If someone wants to set up in a similar lab in their area, how much time will it take them?

You should be able to get all approvals within two weeks if you have the district administration on your side. There are other factors like equipment delivery time, training of doctors, etc. But under ideal circumstances, it should take about 40 days.

Q. What are the other networks one would need?

Knowing individuals that are willing to donate. Having a network on the ground location that can fundraise is resourceful. You should also know vendors that can provide you with the equipment. Most importantly, have mentors who can guide you through the technical stuff.

Q. How cooperative were ICMR and AIIMS Nagpur throughout the whole process?

The doctors at AIIMS Nagpur were very helpful. They never hesitated to answer our questions even after spending more than eight hours on test kits. They would also help us out if we had any problems with the formalities.

Q. What’s the first thing someone should do if they wish to replicate the model?

You need to know if a lab exists in your area. You need to spread awareness about that if it does. If there isn’t you need to map all your resources. It includes your network, spaces, equipment, and administration. 

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