Three labs in Chittagong test Covid-19 samples from eight districts amid capacity constraints
The three laboratories in Chittagong division are taking five to 10 days to analyse and deliver results after receiving samples from suspected Covid-19 patients, which is a cause for concern among the residents of eight districts in the division.
Although Bangladesh has been gradually scaling up Covid-19 testing since April, the authorities of these three laboratories have pinned the blame on severe capacity constraints for their failure to deliver the results in a shorter span of time.
The delay in delivering the results has caused dismay and mental stress among suspected Covid-19 patients in addition to the hostility they face from their local communities.
Joydeb Chakma, a member of the indigenous community from Khagrachhari, submitted his sample for testing on April 22. The results, which came out negative, were delivered to him on April 30.
However, when the news broke out in the locality that his sample had been collected for testing, his neighbours turned hostile towards Joydeb and his family, despite the fact that he was under institutional quarantine.
For Rahim Ullah, a resident of Manikchhari upazila of the same district, it took five days to know whether or not he was Covid-19 positive, after he was admitted to Manikchhari Upazila Health Complex on April 17 with fever.
Such a situation is similar with regard to almost all suspected patients in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region, thus casting uncertainty on what precautions they should take in the meantime or if they should start observing self-isolation before the results of tests are made available.
Testing for coronavirus began at the Bangladesh Institute of Tropical & Infectious Diseases (BITID) on March 25, at Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (CVASU) on April 21, and at Chittagong Medical College and Hospital (CMCH) from Saturday.
Among them, CVASU has been testing samples provided by BITID.
CHT residents demand separate testing facilities
Because of the delays, local residents in the CHT have been demanding separate Covid-19 testing labs in medical colleges in the three districts in the region – Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban.
Khagrachhari Civil Surgeon Dr Nupur Kanti Das said between March 26 and May 9, a total of 291 samples were sent for testing, but the results of only 198 had been delivered till now.
“We are sending samples to Chittagong within a day, but the testing labs take 7-10 days to analyse them. Setting up new labs has thus become crucial in reducing the delivery time of test results,” he said.
Bandarban Civil Surgeon Aung Shwe Prue Marma said the authorities had stopped sending samples to Chittagong as 10-12 days were spent before results could be delivered.
“We are now forwarding samples to Cox's Bazar and getting results within three days. We have so far sent 710 samples and received the results of 463 in total,” he added.
Prof Anupam Barua, principal of Cox's Bazar Medical College, said it was taking the college at least three days to analyze a sample due to the backlog in the testing system.
“We are testing samples from Cox's Bazar, Bandarban and the Lohagara and Satkania upazilas of Chittagong. Every day, we can test 188 samples, but the samples are piling up every day for testing, and because of limited capacity, it is creating a backlog,” he explained.
Bandarban Civil Surgeon Aung Shwe Prue Marma said to minimize the backlog, the district should immediately have its own Covid-19 testing mechanism, even if it is by rapid testing kits, to help test more people and isolate the infected.
“For example, we are bringing samples from Thanchi, 100km away from the city, and then sending them to Cox's Bazar. This takes time, costs more and causes difficulties. If we could have rapid test kits, we could test more people and avoid community transmissions on a large scale,” he added.
So far, nine people in Bandarban have been diagnosed with Covid-19 infection, and four of them have recovered. Among the rest, four have already tested negative once and are set for a second test.
Delay caused by lack of resources
Lakshmipur Civil Surgeon Dr Abdul Gaffar said his organisation had sent 1,400 samples to Chittagong till now, but it was taking seven to nine days to get the results.
“We are worried. Even the shortest duration of receiving the results is seven days. Over 200 samples from my district are still pending tests in Chittagong,” he said.
So far, 59 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the district.
CVASU Laboratory In-Charge Prof Junayed Siddique said the laboratory was currently analyzing 100 samples per day on average, but could double the volume if the government provided them with more financial support and other facilities.
“We analyze only the samples provided by BITID. We have two PCR machines, but are currently using one. It costs Tk100 to analyze one sample, which is now being funded by the university. If the government provides financial support, then we can have more volunteers and handle 200 samples per day,” he added.
When contacted, BITID In-Charge Prof Dr Shakil Ahmed said nearly 400 samples were received from districts under the Chittagong division in a day, but the laboratory was able to analyze only up to 200 samples a day on average, which has created a backlog.
“Look, samples are coming in everyday, but we are still analyzing the old ones because of our limited capacity. We are analyzing the samples of May 6 today. Because of this, it is taking us five to six days to deliver the results,” he added.
He demanded that the authorities increase the capacity and manpower of the Chittagong labs to minimize the backlog in Covid-19 test result delivery.
Dhaka Tribune could not reach Dr Hasan Shahriar Kabir, director of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) for Chittagong division, over the phone despite several attempts.
Dhaka labs testing samples from Chittagong, taking 2-3 days
Three districts in the Chittagong Division – Comilla, Brahmanbaria and Chandpur – are sending Covid-19 samples to Dhaka, but they are also facing two or three days’ delay in getting results.
Comilla Civil Surgeon Dr M Niatuzzaman said they were sending some of their samples to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) in Dhaka as the lone laboratory in the district, set up in Comilla Medical College, could not analyze all of the samples.
But it was taking two days for the results to be delivered from Dhaka, he added.
Brahmanbaria Civil Surgeon Dr Mohammad Ekram Ullah voiced similar opinions, saying his department was getting its samples tested at the icddr,b in Dhaka, and the results were taking two days to come.
“With the collection of 70-80 samples on average every day, we have sent 2,264 samples to Dhaka and received 1,889 results,” he said.
Chandpur Civil Surgeon Dr Md Shakhawat Ullah said it took nearly three days to get Covid-19 test results from Child Health Research Foundation, under Dhaka Shishu Hospital.
“We are sending nearly 60-70 samples a day. So far, we have provided 853 samples and received results from 669 of them,” he added.