Health authorities are now conducting tests randomly in high infected areas and through contact tracing in low infected areas through Walk-in Sample Kiosks
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) is working to implement new two strategies for increasing the number of Covid-19 tests in order to gage just how much the virus has spread in the country.
Alongside the previous initiatives taken by the DGHS, the health authorities have started conducting tests randomly in highly infected areas and contact tracing in low infected areas by setting up Walk-in Sample Kiosks (WISKs).
DGHS said their hotline numbers and collecting samples from patients showing symptoms of Covid-19 will remain.
Experts along with officials at DGHS said implementation of these strategies will bring a positive result to detect the infected people, but emphasized that speedy setting up of WISKs along with recruitment of trained medical technologists across the country is a must to get the result.
They also said the ultimate target of testing 20,000 people per day will not be met so easily since there is a shortage of trained medical technologists at the field level.
Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, consultant for the National Action Plan for Health Security (NAPHS) and former principal scientific officer (PSO) of IEDCR, said they used to collect samples mostly from hospitals. In case of collecting those from home, it depended on symptoms of patients described over phone or through e-mail.
He said: "Now we will conduct tests in two ways. In the most infected areas, we will test as much as we can through WISKs. In the areas where infection rate is low, we will follow contact tracing."
The DGHS will take the lead in the whole process to expand such test facilities in all the districts, he continued.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) will not collect samples from home anymore, he said, adding: "They will work on controlling the quality and test of the samples sent by the DGHS."
Besides, it (IEDCR) will collect some samples by its team for epidemiological research, Mushtuq Husain said.
In the initial stage of coronavirus outbreak in the country, the IEDCR used to collect samples from those having travel history abroad, symptoms or contact with Covid-19 patients.
Later, the testing facilities have been decentralized.
Samples being piled up
With limited manpower, the IEDCR has a huge number of samples in the queue for tests. Besides, the DGHS engaged the institute to crosscheck the results of tests done in other laboratories of the country.
When asked about the number of samples being piled up, officials from both IEDCR and DGHS could not provide the actual data.
Sources said IEDCR alone has several hundred samples in the queue as their virologist himself tested positive.
The number might be several thousand in testing facilities all over the country, sources said.
Besides, two laboratories came up with apparently confusing results, said a DGHS official.
New sample collection system
Former director of several units at DGHS, Dr Samir KantiSaha, who has been entrusted with overseeing the whole initiative, said they are implementing the initiative in collaboration with Brac while training and manpower recruiting are going on.
Some 17 teams will collect samples from Dhaka city and teams will be expanded at the district level as well, he said.
"This will take time," DrSaha said, adding that the manpower crisis is expected to be resolved within this week.
"Everyone having [Covid-19] symptoms in the infected areas will be tested," he said.
At present some 27 booths have been set up in Dhaka by Brac and some 45 booths at 10 centres in Dhaka and Narayanganj by JKG Healthcare.
According to Morseda Chowdhury, associate director of the Health, Nutrition and Population Programme (HNPP) at Brac, each of the kiosks can collect 30 to 40 samples per hour.
DGHS acting director general (DG) Prof Nasima Sultana said 41 labs (20 in Dhaka city) are now in operation across the country to test the collected samples.
She said samples would be collected from home only for those who would not be able to visit the nearby kiosk or are falling under the age and risk groups like children and elderly people.
"We are working to increase the number of per day tests in order to achieve the target [20,000 tests per day] set by the technical committee [National Technical Advisory Committee]," she added.
The adviser of IEDCR, Dr Mohammad Mushtuq, also the member of the testing facility committee, said it seems difficult to achieve the target without skilled medical technologists.
"The resources we have, we can achieve 10,000 tests per day and we are working to ensure that first," he added.
When contacted, DGHS Director (Administration) DrMdBelal Hossain said the recruitment of medical technologists was in process.