• Friday, Jul 03, 2020
  • Last Update : 07:07 pm

Is scant Covid-19 testing slowing detection?

  • Published at 12:32 am March 26th, 2020
A health worker in a protective gown checks a man for signs of the novel coronavirus infection Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

IEDCR performed 794 tests on the suspected cases and found 39 to be positive, with 5 deaths so far

The best Covid-19 containment measures according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is to test more, and test frequently for the virus, but Bangladesh with one of the largest populations in the world is lagging behind by testing only incoming migrants from highly affected countries.  

The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) say they’re short on testing kits, and as such are only focusing on high probability cases, but the pandemic has already reached Bangladesh on a community infection level according to the institute itself. 

Neighbouring countries, India and Pakistan is far ahead of Bangladesh as Pakistan made 72 centres available for testing while India has 62, but in contrast, Bangladesh has only one institution - the IEDCR, in Dhaka, as the only place that can test for the virus. 

Till yesterday,  IEDCR performed tests on 794 suspected cases and identified 39 positive cases – nearly 5% of the tests conducted. Five of the infected have died so far.

The authorities are getting more and more cases as it is increasing the number of tests. Since March 8, when the first infection was reported in Bangladesh, the testing laboratory in Dhaka, on average conducted some 33 tests.

The number of tests ranged between a maximum of 10 tests per day till March 11, gradually rising to 82 on March 25.

Is the shortage of kits behind the slow detection? 

While the stock of testing kits remains a question if it is blocking the way of conducting more number of tests to identify confirmed cases, the government is repeatedly claiming that there is no shortage of required testing kits.

Health Minister Zahid Maleque recently said the preparation for Covid-19 detection was delayed as they failed to assume that the situation will take such a serious turn.

However, several sources from the ministry and Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) told the Dhaka Tribune that the delayed response of the ministry has left the health sector in chaos.

They also cited global demand for the test kit as a reason for Bangladesh having so few. 

PM assures of more kits

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her address to the nation yesterday said Bangladesh has 13,000 testing kits available as of Tuesday, and another 30,000 kits will be arriving soon.

“There are eight testing machines in Dhaka and work is underway to set up coronavirus testing laboratories in the other seven divisions,” she said.

Dr Rizwanul Karim (Shameem), focal person of laboratories and the diagnostic group of the integrated control room said they might have expanded testing facilities earlier, but to test coronavirus it requires a certain level of the perimeter to fix, as well as skilled human resources.

There is also another problem and that is, returnees are not taking the guidelines of self-quarantine seriously and thus putting public health at risk.

Data compiled by Bangladesh government shows a total of 663,421 people returned from different countries and were screened at the airport since January 21.

However, only 43,106 people were put on home quarantine, which is only 6.5% of the returnees.

But, those put on home quarantine were found to be in violation and could have been asymptomatic carriers of the virus without even knowing it. 

The Bangladesh government finally deployed armed forces in all 64 districts to assist civil administration and ensure social distancing and other precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

The troops will also work on ensuring mandatory quarantine of returnees from abroad and their close contacts across Bangladesh.

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