The service is yet to gain momentum as people still opt for RT-PCR testing despite this being cheaper
Bangladesh launched antigen-based rapid testing a month ago to help people get coronavirus test results within the shortest period of time.
However, the service is yet to gain momentum as only a few tests are being conducted per day in districts, through using the mechanism, where the service has been made available.
Only 2,255 tests have been conducted in 40 districts by using Covid-19 rapid antigen testing since the service was launched on December 5, data compiled by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) show.
That means on average only 75 tests were conducted in a district during the last one month period.
Bangladesh launched the much awaited antigen-based rapid testing on December 5 in 10 districts. The number was increased to 40 labs, gradually.
In a 24-hour period, from Sunday to Monday morning, only 127 tests were conducted in the districts, meaning on average only three tests were conducted through use of antigen testing in selected districts during the period.
Civil surgeons of different hospitals told Dhaka Tribune that the DGHS had asked them to conduct tests via antigen method only during emergencies and in very highly suspected cases.
Each of the labs received only 500 kits for antigen testing, they added.
Panchagarh civil surgeon Dr Md Fazlur Rahman said service seekers for antigen testing were selected only if they were symptomatic.
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“We are constantly in touch with different chambers and hospitals, but there are not many symptomatic patients in our districts, leading to fewer tests,” he said.
Only 62 tests were conducted in the district as of Sunday, and 13 of them came out positive.
Meherpur Civil Surgeon Dr M Nasir Uddin said testing was being carried out on three to six suspects via the antigen method on average.
“The challenge with antigen testing is that we cannot test people if they are not symptomatic and this is why widespread testing is not possible. Also, people are unwilling to visit hospitals or go for tests nowadays,” he said.
Citing reports from upazila level health officials, he said people were still afraid of the 14-day quarantine period if they were found positive since it would impact their incomes and thus livelihood.
Despite the fact that the antigen based rapid testing involves lesser cost and time than that of the RT-PCR test, it is yet to attract service seekers, a fact which has surprised healthcare experts.
“It is surprising why people are not opting for the service. We recommended introduction of antigen testing in June as the number of test seekers was higher during the period, but it took much time for launching the service. Now people are less interested in testing,” said Prof Nazrul Islam, a noted virologist and a member of the government's national technical advisory committee on Covid-19.
He suggested the government change the strategy of testing a selected number of cases and introduce mechanisms so that people take the method for widespread testing.
DGHS spokesperson Habibur Rahman said tests would only increase if they were found to be necessary.