AI-backed Indian sero-survey tech could prioritize COVID vax process

New Delhi: An Indian IT firm, Thalamus Irwine has claimed to have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT)-based solution, which can assist the government identify vulnerable communities among the population whose immunization would put brakes on the spread of the COVID-19 infection, through its sero-survey platform named Garuda.

Where the governments generally take months to conduct a sero-study with thousands of samples, the company claims it could conduct sero-prevalence study of one crore samples within a week’s time.

Rishabh Sharma, CEO of the firm told IANS that he is also in talks with several state governments to implement his technology in their respective states.

“While I’m not at liberty to disclose the names currently, what I can tell you is that a few states from North India and one from South India are considering the project,” he shared.

Sharma claimed that his technology could help the government in identifying the vulnerable groups which can be authorised vaccines in later stages of immunisation to break the chain of infection.

He told IANS that his sero-survey platform can give a map of the community and geographical pockets where least or no immunity has been developed against the COVID-19.

“Our AI-based system can analyse samples tested for COVID-19 in real-time. While the sero-prevalence results are out within a few microseconds, the complete analysis of data hardly takes 10 minutes.

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“Based on the analysis, we visualize the impact of viruses geographically and demographically as well. We can identify vulnerable populations, predict the future trends as well monitor movement of the virus,” he explained.

“If Coronavirus is a fire, then these communities are its oxygen pockets. The virus requires new hosts to sustain its transmission. We have so many small such clusters who have remained untouched by the virus but are susceptible to the infection. There is no real-time information available on them,” Sharma said

“To douse the fire, such communities also need to be vaccinated on priority. It would help build immunity along with the people who received it naturally and the chain would be broken much faster. It will flatten the curve eventually, which is the purpose of the vaccine,” he added.

The Delhi-based company has partnered with ITI, a project under the Department of Telecommunication.

R.M. Agarwal, chairman and managing Director, ITI, had made an official announcement about their partnership with Garuda last week.

“Our efforts with Garuda are in line with the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), Garuda has also been integrated with Aadhaar already via our Aadhaar services and we are continuing to find new use cases,” he had stated.

While Sharma stated that there is no argument to the fact that healthcare and frontline workers need to receive the jabs on utmost priority, he also added that the authorisation post the priority immunisation must be done based on sero-study.

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“I can not dictate the vaccine prioritisation. But I would suggest that an informed strategy would prove much effective in controlling the infection. For that, data can be extrapolated over a large population and understand the movement of the virus across the country,” Sharma clarified.

Prabhakaran Dorairaj, Professor of Epidemiology, Public Health Foundation of India, said that an AI-based can be helpful in vaccine authorisation as it could study a large base of population, if proven cost-effective.

“The arguments by the firm are valid. However, we have to see if the cost incurred in the project is feasible. The upcoming vaccines are expected to be pegged below Rs 1,000 per vial. If the test costs higher than the vaccine itself, then it is of no use,” he told IANS.

Sharma said that the cost of the test is pegged around Rs 1,000 per sample. However, the price of devices can be lowered further if they start being manufactured in the country, he added.

Currently, Garuda platform uses testing machines produced by Boditech Med Inc, a biotechnology company based out of South Korea, Sharma informed. The testing kits are approved by Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) and validated by ICMR, he added.

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