Govt must scale up coronavirus infection tests

Published: 00:00, Mar 29,2020


THE number of novel coronavirus infection cases has by Saturday reached 48, with 5 having died of COVID-19, the disease that the virus causes. Fifteen of the cases, as the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research says, have been closed, leaving 28 active cases. The figures leave the fatality rate from the disease at 10.41 per cent, which is higher in comparison with fatality rates in other countries and almost double than the global average of 4.5 per cent. It is generally said that for any inferential statistics, a sample size of less than 500 may not be adequate, giving out results that may not be relied on. Yet the fatality rate that has been at hand leaves two propositions open to discussions. Such a high rate, as health experts tend to say, could be due to the apparent fact that many people with symptoms of the coronavirus infection, many of which are typical of the seasonal influenza, may have gone or are going undetected. But the epidemiology institute seeks to differ, brushes aside claims of experts and says that the institute is testing a large number of people with symptoms of the new coronavirus infection.

The epidemiology institute, as official statements say, has run tests on 1,076 suspected cases since January 21. With 48 cases being confirmed, since the first three cases were announced on March 8, out 1,076 tests, account for a daily average of about 17, leaves the infection percentage against the number of tests at 4.46. Fears come in when the figures are considered in view of the population of more than 160 million and about 600,000 people who are reported to have entered Bangladesh since January 21, with only an insignificant number of them having been quarantined, at home or in institutional facilities. Besides, testing has so far mostly been done at the epidemiology institute, which on March 26 said that testing would also be done at the Institute of Public Health and Shishu Hospital in Dhaka and at the Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infections Diseases in Chattogram. But for the epidemiology institute, only the institute in Chattagram has conducted only eight tests in 24 hours till Saturday, as the epidemiology institute says. All this suggests that the institute has still been ill equipped, if not with facilities but with human resources, to run tests on a large scale. The institute, which had been unwilling to test suspected cases beyond imported and local transmission cases, on March 25 admitted to a limited-scale community transmission to be taking place in one area in Dhaka. Community transmission having taken place in Dhaka, theoretically speaking, may have also taken place in other and outlying areas.

One effective way to improve on the situation for a better stocktaking aimed at a better management of the new coronavirus threat is to conduct more tests. But the government must make the testing facilities available for that not only in big cities but, preferably, in all general hospitals in districts. The government is reported in the middle of February to have opened isolation units in all district general and medical college hospitals and set up sample collection points in all district headquarters. Without testing facilities being made available in all the districts, the earlier move, whatever assuring the might sound, would remain ineffective. The government must scale up the tests.

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