Covid tests fall amid worse situation in Bangladesh

Manzur H Maswood | Published: 23:45, Apr 20,2021 | Updated: 17:08, Apr 22,2021


The number of Covid tests has dropped in the country over recent days amid the worsening Covid situation.

Although the number of daily tests ranged from about 30,000 to 35,000 a few days ago, the figure was between 16,000 and 27,000 in the past seven days.

About 60 to 65 per cent of the tests are carried out in the capital alone as the districts still lag behind in equipment to do the tests.

Although Bangladesh has passed over a year since its first coronavirus cases were detected in March 2020, still 20 districts have neither an RT-PCR lab nor a GeneXpert lab — two sophisticated Covid testing labs.

Experts are of the view that the number of tests should be raised as the country has recently witnessed a surge in Covid cases and deaths.

‘As we have experienced deterioration in the Covid situation, it’s high time we increased the number of tests to have the actual picture and understand the trend of infections,’ said noted virologist Nazrul Islam. 

After four consecutive days with more than 100 Covid deaths Bangladesh on Tuesday recorded 91 deaths.

The Monday death figure, 112, was the highest for a single day in the country.

On Tuesday 4,559 cases were detected while the figure on Monday was 4,271.

On Tuesday 27,056 tests were carried out, which was the highest in seven days.

The country is now in the 59th week of its coronavirus outbreak.

In the 57th week the number of tests was 2,20,828, which was the highest for a single week, but the figure dropped by 20 per cent in the 58th week when it was 1,77,174.

About 66 per cent of the tests done on Tuesday were in the capital, according to the Directorate General of Health Services data.

Nazrul, a former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said that Covid-19 had already spread all over the country, adding that it was a serious lapse that tests are not being carried out in districts.

‘People in districts are being denied the test. It’s been more than a year we have been into the Covid situation but not all the districts are still equipped with the necessary facilities like test labs, hospital beds, ICUs and central oxygen system,’ he said.

According to the DGHS, the country has now 265 labs, including 122 RT-PCR, 34 GeneXpert and 109 antigen labs.

Among them, 52 RT-PCR, 32 GeneXpert and all the 109 antigen labs are owned by the government.

Seventy-three of the 122 RT-PCR and seven of the 34 GeneXpert labs are in the capital.

The antigen labs are spread across the country but their operations are yet to gain momentum. Although antigen tests take less time and are less expensive, the daily number of this test is still below 1,000 across the country.

The health agency has not provided any data about the location of the antigen labs.

According to DGHS statistics, among the 64 districts, 20 have neither any RT-PCR lab nor any GeneXpert facility.

The districts are Madaripur, Shariatpur, Munshiganj, Rajbari, Khagrachari, Bandarban, Lakshmipur, Sunamganj, Habiganj, Moulvibazar, Gaibandha, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, Panchagarh, Netrakona, Sherpur, Jhalakathi, Jaipurhat, Chapainawabganj and Naogaon.

New Age talked to 10 civil surgeons and superintendents of hospitals in the districts and all of them said that they were struggling to conduct the tests due to the absence of labs.

They have to send the samples to nearby districts and thus face delays in getting the results, they said.

‘We need four to seven days to get a test done and have the result,’ said a civil surgeon in a northern district having no lab.

Patients and experts said that the cost of Covid-19 tests was also a factor, which discouraged many people to get a test done.

The government labs charge Tk 100 for per test while the private labs take Tk 3,500.

The government fixed the test price for private labs last year, but despite a drop in kit prices the test fee was not reduced yet.

The National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 advised the government on Monday to increase the number of tests.

‘The number of tests has declined in recent days,’ the committee said, adding that it is necessary to increase the number of tests to understand the Covid situation and ensure a better management of patients through isolation, quarantine and hospitalisation.

The committee suggested that the government should ensure an easy sample-collection process and make the tests accessible to the test seekers.

It also advised that open sample-collection booths should be set up at each ward in the cities and the antigen test should also be carried out at the booths.

The committee further advised that the test should be free at the government labs and the private lab test price should be evaluated and reduced.

‘The test kit price has already dropped significantly and the test price at private labs needs to be reduced,’ it observed.

These actions will help increase the number of tests, make the tests accessible and affordable and reduce the pressure on the government labs, it viewed.

Virologist Nazrul, also a member of the national advisory committee, said that the government should implement the suggestions of the committee and increase the number of tests across the country.

Asked about the reasons for the drop in the number of tests, DGHS director for disease control and its spokesperson Nazmul Islam blamed the public apathy to testing.

‘We are witnessing a trend of “Covid denial” among people. They are not showing interest in tests when they develop symptoms,’ he went on.

Nazmul also said that the ongoing countrywide curbs on public movement were also responsible for the decrease in the number of tests.

‘Although the tests seekers are outside the purview of the restrictions, people are showing little interest to go out for tests,’ he commented.

The government labs, Nazmul said, have the capacity to test over 50,000 samples a day.

‘There is no shortage of test kits. We have an adequate stock and a streamlined supply mechanism to procure kits every month,’ he said.

Bangladesh has so far tallied 10,588 Covid deaths and 7.17 lakh cases since its first three cases were detected on March 8, 2020.

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