An informed COVID-19 test policy is must

Published: 00:00, Jul 13,2020


AN INADEQUATE testing has been a major concern since COVID-19 broke out in Bangladesh. For more than a month since the first detection on March 8, there had been only one testing centre. Testing was later decentralised but the number of daily tests was low compared with the population size. Now when infection rate is increasing, the number of test has worryingly declined. The Directorate General of Health Services on Saturday reported that in the preceding 24 hours, it tested 2,686 people positive for COVID-19 against 11,193 samples, taking the daily infection rate to 24 per cent. Nearly one in every four sample is positive. In the middle of June, the infection rate was 22.40 per cent when the number of tests was more than 15,000. Public health experts have, therefore, expressed concern about testing because the rising infection rate despite declining tests hints at a heightened stage of the outbreak that cannot be averted unless there are epidemiologically informed and consolidated efforts that the government should immediately take.

The number of tests appears to have declined after the government decided to charge people for tests which has largely been criticised as anti-people and counterproductive. The privatisation of test and subsequent news on COVID-19 certificate forgery have also created distrust and discouraged people from being tested. When a greater access to testing should have been a government priority, it has rather taken an uninformed and unjust decision to decrease the number of test. The government move also goes against the recent stand of the World Health Organisation that asked all countries to take aggressive measures — more tests for quick detection, isolation and contact tracing — against the novel coronavirus. The government has followed a rather conservative test policy since the disease broke out, ignoring global recommendations. The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research initially assumed that people who have returned from COVID-19-infested countries and who have come in contact with imported cases are suspected cases and ruled out the possibility of community transmission. It is in this context that public health experts term the government’s test policy as flawed that tends to control and manipulate information by restricting access to resources than controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus.

At a time when inadequate testing kept many cases out of the radar, the government move to reduce the number of tests would add to the risk of transmission. Considering that a robust testing infrastructure has been important in the countries that have successfully contained the outbreak, the government must immediately abandon its erratic and scientifically uninformed strategy and ensure a greater access of people at large to tests. The government must also put in place a contact tracing mechanism to break the chain of contagion.

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