The country conducts around 22 lakh HIV AIDS tests every year, but the number of tests has fallen this year due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Consequently, there is a risk of undiagnosed AIDS patients spreading the infection.
Akhtaruzzaman, senior programme manager, AIDS/ STD Programme under the Department of Health, told The Business Standard, "We have not been able to test for HIV this year according to our target because of Covid-19."
He continued, "If anyone wants to go to the Middle East, it is a must to complete the test at the GAMCA [Gulf Approved Medical Centres Association]. Seven to eight lakh tests are done every year. But as travelling abroad was stopped from March this year, there were no tests. Only two and a half lakh tests have been done instead of seven lakh."
An average of 11 lakh tests are usually done annually during the blood screening process. The tests are performed in the blood transfusion departments of various medical college hospitals and district hospitals, Akhtaruzzaman said.
"As the hospitals had a reduced patient flow, the HIV tests were low as well. And usually those who are tested – sex workers, members of the transgender population and drug addicts – were scattered due to the lockdown and also were beyond our reach," he added.
When asked if there were risks as the HIV testing is low, Akhtaruzzaman admitted that there are some risks.
"Every year, GAMCA finds around 200 positive cases. This year, the positive rate has decreased due to the reduced number of tests. So, people who are positive are not being identified. And there are risks of spreading the infection from them to others," said the senior programme manager of the AIDS/STD Program.
According to the estimation of the Health Department, there are 14,000 known AIDS patients across the country. HIV AIDS was first detected in the country in 1989.
Following the Health Department's information, between 1989 and 2019, 7,374 HIV/AIDS patients were diagnosed in the country, of which 1,242 died.
In 2019, some 919 people were diagnosed with the disease, and 180 of them died. Of those identified last year, 105 were Rohingya.
Among 7,374 people identified, 2,672 of them are in the capital city, Dhaka. The number of HIV-positive patients in Chattogram is 2,008, in Sylhet 1,219, in Rajshahi 192, in Khulna 660, in Mymensingh 86, and in Rangpur 68 people.
The positivity rate is 1% among sex workers, intravenous drug addicts and transgender population; the rate is 0.01% among the general population, while the rate among expatriates is 20%.
Dr Shamiul Islam, director MBDC & Line Director TBL & ASP, Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said that districts with more than 50 patients are at risk.
"There are 23 such centres in 28 districts where counselling and testing facilities are available for these patients. Further, screening programmes are available in the upazilas as well," said Dr Shamiul.
He added that the HIV virus reduces a person's natural immune system.
"If someone's immune system is weakened, any infection can lead to death. So, we are trying to increase their immunity using medication. At the same time, the government is taking the necessary preventive measures to prevent the spread of the disease," added the DGHS official.