GeneXpert TB testing machines to test COVID-19

Manzur H Maswood | Published: 00:31, Jul 01,2020


The government has decided to use GeneXpert machines, also a kind of RT-PCR testing apparatus, to detect COVID-19 patients faster.

GeneXpert is a high-tech tool to detect tuberculosis patients and Bangladesh has 270 such machines across the country, even at upazila-level hospitals.

‘We’ve started updating the software to enable it for detecting the coronavirus patients,’ said National TB Control Programme director Shamiul Islam on Tuesday.

A GeneXpert machine was installed at the Combined Military Hospital, Dhaka, on Tuesday and three others in the capital have been readied to run the tests, he added.

GeneXpert is being used in different countries, including the USA and India, to identify COVID-19 patients.

There are some advantages in using GeneXpert machines, Shamiul said.

‘The GeneXpert test is accurate like the current RT-PCR test for COVID-19 detection and it is less costly. Moreover, it takes just 30 to  45 minutes to get the results while the RT-PCR test takes nearly four hours,’ he said.

The GeneXpert test, Virologist Nazrul Islam said, is a good alternative to the conventional RT-PCR COVID-19 test.

‘The government has to procure the kits for these machines,’ he said.

The Global Fund, which finances the TB programme in Bangladesh, has provided 10,000 kits to detect COVID-19 in Bangladesh, Shamiul said.

‘With these kits we can test only 10,000 samples…So our primary plan is to start this test at 10 labs,’ he said.

‘The government needs to collect the kits for the machine if we want to expand this viable option,’ he added.

Shamiul said that they requested the Global Fund to provide them with 30,000 more kits.

He said that with the limited number of kits, the GeneXpert testing would be used now for emergency patients, like those who were waiting to get a COVID-19 test as they needed a surgery now while the conventional test was not adequately available. Bangladesh is one of the low COVID-19 testing nations in the world.

There are only 67 labs in the country to conduct the RT-PCR test, but most of them were added in recent days.

Bangladesh registered over 1.45 lakh COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday and is currently the 17th worst-hit country in terms of coronavirus infections but the country is lagging behind in terms of COVID-19 testing.

The COVID-19 tests per million population in the country are 4,672 and it is in the 147th position among 215 countries in terms of testing.

Shamiul said that they were hopeful of the best possible utilisation of their resources during the current critical time, when there was a high demand for the COVID-19 test.

‘We’ve already had the manpower and machines across the country and we need the kits now,’ he said.

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