Govt must heed COVID-19 committee advice on test

Published: 00:00, Jul 10,2020


THE government not heeding the recommendations that the national technical advisory committee on COVID-19 mitigation has made is worrying as such a proposition only adds to the sufferings of people seeking tests to establish if they have contracted the disease. The committee in June spoke in favour of the introduction of antigen and antibody test kits and the use of GeneXpert machines in hospitals and upazila health complexes to test for the novel coronavirus. The devices are in use in may countries to test for COVID-19 infection. But the government appears inclined to use only real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction machines, which are expensive and take significantly longer for the detection. A situation like this has created a backlog of samples lying with the laboratories so much so that one test-seeker is reported not to have received the test result until July 8 even though the sample was given on June 15. Experts say that dependence on only about 80 real-time RT-PCR machines run at 73 laboratories to test novel coronavirus infection in a country of about 163 million people would not resolve the testing issues and would not, thus, present an accurate picture of COVID-19 situation for a better management of the outbreak that has stalled life, society and the country for more than three months.

While, in such a situation mired in inadequacy, the technical advisory committee has recommended the use of antigen test kits, which give results in 20 minutes, and of antibody test kits for the sero-surveillance of people already infected with COVID-19 and convalescent plasma for antibody detection, the committee has also recommended the use of GeneXpert machines in hospitals to detect new coronavirus infection so that COVID-19 patients could be separated from patients suffering from other diseases and the incidents of treatment refusal do not take place out of any fear for infection. Treatment refusal has already made the headlines as a number of patients are reported to have died after they were turned away by hospitals for not having any certification for being positive or negative for COVID-19. The use of GeneXpert machines could resolve the problem of treatment refusal by a large measure. A member on the committee says that with special cartridges, GeneXpert, the machines that are used to detect drug-resistant tuberculosis, can be used for COVID-19 screening. While the Directorate General of Health Services has sought that health ministry should make available antigen test kits for screening and antibody test kits for sero-surveillance of COVID-19 patients, the health services administration is yet to heed the advice of the national committee on the use of GeneXpert machines.

The health services administration has, however, taken an initiative for online registration for COVID-19 tests, which could eliminate the need for people to stand in queues for longer period in front of sample collection booths and, thus, reduce infection risks. But the health ministry must also consider the use of GeneXpert machines, as advised by the national committee on COVID-19 mitigation, as it would help to mitigate the COVID-19 fallout expeditiously. The ministry, run by bureaucrats, must heed the advice of the national committee, which includes physicians and experts.

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