The number of COVID-19 cases is low in the districts which have no testing facilities compared with the districts that have one or more laboratories.
Out of the 94 labs for testing COVID-19 samples in the country, 54 are in Dhaka, 6 in Chattogram, 4 in Gazipur and the rest are in 24 districts, while there is no lab in 37 districts, according to government data.
Bangladesh has so far tallied 3,36,044 COVID-19 cases and 4,702 deaths, including 1,282 cases detected in the past 24 hours and 34 deaths recorded during the same period.
Directorate General of Health Services and Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research data show that the concentration of COVID-19 cases in the country is higher in the districts having labs compared with the districts with no labs.
For example, the number of total confirmed cases in Mymensingh with lab facilities is 3,549, whereas the number of cases in nearby Netrokona is 706 and in Sherpur 453. Both Netrokona and Sherpur do not have any lab.
The number of detected cases also varies with the number of labs in the districts.
Bogura with two labs has confirmed 7,095 cases and Rajshahi with two labs has confirmed 4,740 cases.
But, Sirajganj with only one lab has detected 2,024 cases and Chapainawabganj and Natore with no labs have detected 738 cases and 933 cases respectively.
In Rangpur division, Rangpur and Dinajpur with one lab each have 2,630 and 3,227 cases respectively while without having any lab, Panchagarh has 542 cases, Lalmonirhat 795 cases and Kurigram has 853 cases.
The number of cases in Barishal with a lab is 3,329, number of cases in Jhalakathi, without a lab, is 677.
Civil surgeons of eight districts told New Age that the numbers of detected cases in their districts were low as people were reluctant to go for COVID-19 tests due to delay in getting results as they did not have any labs in the districts.
DGHS director and spokesperson Habibur Rahman, however, said that the absence of lab in any district was not causing drop in the number of tests or the number of cases.
‘The districts having no labs are collecting samples at the district hospitals and upazila health complexes and are sending them to the labs of the nearby districts,’ he said.
He admitted that it was causing some delays in getting results in the districts with no labs, but said that the slight delay was not causing a low number of tests.
Experts said that the tests were not being done equitably from all geographical locations in the country, resulting in an incorrect estimation of the COVID-19 cases.
Virologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Nazrul Islam said that the number of tests was still too low in the country and the tests were not equitable, giving false information about the rate of infections.
‘If we collect 50 samples a day from each of the upazilas across the country, the number of daily tests will be over 25,000. But, the number of our daily tests crossed 18,000 only for once and the average daily tests is now around 12,000-13,000,’ he said.
DGHS and IEDCR data showed that a much higher number of tests were being done in Dhaka although the rate of infections in the capital was nearly three times lower than the areas outside the capital.
According to the DGHS, 10,25,374 tests have been done in the capital’s 54 labs.
The IEDCR has confirmed 85,938 cases in the capital, with the rate of infection of 8.38 per cent.
On the other hand, the number of tests outside the capital has totalled 6,90,107 with 1,65,024 cases and a detection rate of 23.91 per cent.
Health minister Zahid Maleque time and again said that the government had started preparation for tackling COVID-19 when the virus first emerged in China in December, 2019.
He also said that the RT-PCR labs would be expanded to all districts and the number of daily tests would be over 20,000.
Habibur Rahman of DGHS said that the government was installing labs whenever they were getting a new RT-PCR machine.
‘We had only one lab at IEDCR in the beginning but we have now 94 labs,’ he said.
He could not say when the 37 districts would get labs as there is no new RT-PCR machine in the pipeline.
Public health experts said that the government still lacked preparation despite getting much time after the virus was first detected in Bangladesh on March 8.
‘Delay in following or avoiding the World Health Organisation guidelines will cause lingering of the virus in our country,’ said WHO’s former regional adviser Muzaherul Huq.
He cited the WHO suggestions for widespread tests, isolation of the cases and contact tracing to check the spread of coronavirus.
With 3.36 lakh COVID-19 cases, Bangladesh is now on the 15th position in terms of number of cases, but the country is on the 158th position in terms of tests per million population.
The COVID-19 tests per million population in Bangladesh is 10,396 now, according to the reference website worldometers.info.
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