People have so far made over 800,000 phone calls to three government-run Covid-19 emergency help lines. Against that huge number of calls, over the last two months the health authorities in Bangladesh could manage testing only 1,185 people for Covid-19 up until Sunday– making the ratio a paltry 0.148% of the calls received.
The authorities found only 48 of them to be positive cases of Covid-19, with five deaths so far. And thanks to low rates of testing, not a single new Covid-19 positive case has been identified over the past two days. The government tested only 47 people on Friday and 109 more on Saturday.
The figures came at a time when several hundreds of panic gripped people wait in queues outside the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), requesting them to test their samples, but the authorities continue to decline most of them, saying that no tests are required for people with only flu or cough like symptoms.
The IEDCR is testing people only if they meet two major criteria – if the suspect has a travel history to any of the Covid-19 affected countries or one comes in contact with any suspect who has returned from affected countries.
IEDCR Director Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora defended by saying: “It would be wrong if it is said that we are not increasing the testing.”
She said: “It is not that all the calls are coming for sample tests. They call for sneezing, coughing, some want to know about Covid-19, some say they have foreigners next door, and what can they do in this situation, etc.”
Saying that for every disease, tests are done based on symptoms, she continued: “We want to collect much more samples, and will collect samples of all suspected cases.”
Because of a lack of kits earlier, the IEDCR would only test people who had come home from abroad.
But now, as per IEDCR, those they have expanded the criteria to: returned expatriate showing symptoms; exposed to someone who has already tested positive; symptomatic people aged more than 60 having comorbidity; symptomatic people with any pre-existing condition; having atypical pneumonia; serious hospitalized patients with corona syndromes; professionals with symptoms who came into contact with different walks of people.
Bangladesh far behind neighboring nations
Bangladesh has imposed a nationwide shutdown for 10 days since Mar 26, but the shutdown without adequate testing facilities and isolation remains a challenge for the country.
World Health Organisation is calling all countries to test suspects as much as possible, saying it is the best way to slow the advance of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have a simple message to all countries - test, test, test,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Mar 16.
“All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded,” he said, adding that cases cannot be isolated and the chain of infection will not be broken without testing.
South Korea is the ideal example of how to slow down the spread of the virus – isolate people and test them as much as possible. It tested over 325,000 people within a single month and isolated the infected.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, 160 laboratories, 113 government testing laboratories, and 47 private laboratories were approved for testing Covid-19 suspects.
As of Mar 27, our neighboring nation collected 27,688 samples from suspects and found 691 individuals positive among suspected cases and contacts of known positive cases.
Data compiled by Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH) till Mar 29 shows the country so far performed tests on 14,336 cases and found 1526 of them positive. The country was providing testing facilities from 15 centres in eight provinces.
Enough kits in stock, but testing remains low
Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Sunday said Bangladesh has 45,000 Covid-19 test kits in stock and more will be imported soon.
“We will receive another 85,000 kits shortly,” he said.
IEDCR director Flora said: “It’s challenging to collect samples from remote areas. That’s why we are going to expand our activities to divisional levels so that more testing can be provided.”
Testing facilities expanded, but test rate remains low
Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Sunday said suspects will be tested from 11 locations across Bangladesh, but testing has begun at only five or six places as of yesterday.
“We cannot test everyone. Only those having symptoms are tested. If you have a cough or fever, it does not mean you are Covid-19 positive,” he said.
As per IEDCR, now the IEDCR, IPH (Institute Of Public Health), Dhaka Shishu Hospital, ICDDRB and Dhaka CMH have started testing already. Of them, CMH is only treating their own patients.
Two other facilities outside Dhaka have already started testing at Cox’s Bazar and the Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases (BITID) in Chattogram.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) and Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMC) are ready to run their testing activities as they were provided with test kits.
Kurmitola General Hospital, the National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre, and the Institute for Developing Science and Health Initiatives (ideSHi) are also ready to run tests.
“But, most of the samples will be tested in our lab (IEDCR),” said Flora.
The health minister on Sunday said no patients were tested since testing facilities were opened up in Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar.
At the divisional level, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Khulna, and Sylhet Medical have already started their testing operations which are in the last stages of being finished.
A lab will be set up in Barisal. “But we are not thinking of starting one in Cumilla,” she said.