Form expert body to study feasibility of alternative HIV test, HC tells Centre

The Gujarat High Court on Thursday directed the central government to constitute a body of experts to examine as to what extent Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test could be made mandatory at blood banks across the country for detection of HIV infection within two months.

Acting on a public interest litigation (PIL), a division bench of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala directed that the committee will place its report before the court three months after its constitution and posted the matter for May 2013.

The PIL has contended that the standard method for detecting HIV in India is 'Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)' test or the antibody test, which has a window period of three months. This means an infection acquired in the past three months cannot be detected. However, the ELISA test can be replaced by PCR test where there is no window period.

According to the PIL, in India, PCR test was not included in the standard HIV testing for reasons best known to the governments both at the state and the Centre. It has been added that in 2006, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) had announced that India was the first country in Asia to introduce PCR.

However, PCR is not made mandatory at blood banks and hospitals, and the petition has sought to make the same mandatory.

As the PCR test is costlier than the ELISA test, the court observed, "...we would like to make one aspect very clear that when we are dealing with the subject of life of a citizen, the cost should not be a factor so far as the government is concerned."

"It is the duty of the government to protect the life of its citizens and it would not lie in the mouth of any government to say that because of cost factor, the PCR Test is to be ruled out. Life is priceless," it further observed.

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