Labs in Bangladesh cannot increase testing for several reasons – including that most of the labs lack skilled employees and have only one PCR machine
While virologists and health experts globally are recommending aggressive testing of people to fight the highly-contagious Covid-19, Bangladesh is still moving slowly.
At present, Bangladesh has 56 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) labs, and their total testing capacity is around 15,000 samples a day. However, this is still insufficient against the national demand, said experts.
On June 9, a total 14,664 samples were tested to diagnose Covid-19 cases across the country – taking the total number of tests conducted in the country to 425,595. The first novel coronavirus testing began on January 21 at just one lab.
As the deadly virus has already spread to all districts, the 56 Covid-19 testing laboratories – including private and public ones – have been struggling to meet daily demand. The number of tests has stuck at around 15,000 per day.
"A PCR machine can test 94 samples at one go – taking five to six hours – and most labs cannot do it more than twice," said Prof Dr Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
Though experts say the number of daily tests needs to be increased immediately, labs in Bangladesh cannot increase testing for several reasons. These include that most of the labs have only one PCR machine plus there is a lack of biosafety labs and skilled employees.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, former adviser of World Health Organisation (Southeast Asia region), said, "As the PCR lab testing facilities are inadequate [in Bangladesh], antibody testing can be a solution."
"It should be started without any further delay; otherwise, the situation might go out of control," he warned.
"For antibody testing, no skilled manpower is needed and the existing workers can do it. It can even be done by volunteers," he said, adding that available medical technologists can be used after training them in order to increase the lab capacity.
"Upazila health complexes have to be made functional as well for collecting samples and treating patients by making isolation facilities. It will decrease the pressure on metropolitan hospitals. Private hospitals have to be engaged too," said Muzaherul.
Prof Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director of Communicable Disease Control at DGHS, said, "The mistake was made earlier by the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research ."
"They made a wrong assessment of the disease and started testing at only one lab without increasing facilities for a long time," he added.
"The authorities concerned had more than a month at the beginning, which could have been utilised to prepare a sufficient number of labs," he said.
"Experts then repeatedly proposed more labs be set up immediately, but the authorities paid no heed to that. They failed to take far-sighted steps," claimed Ahmed.
"If the present situation continues, we will witness great danger soon. All systems will collapse," he warned.
"Although the government is adopting a zoning system [dividing the country into red, yellow and green zones], it is only one effective measure for now to control and prevent further transmissions. It is important to increase the number of testing facilities," said the expert.
Professor Nasima Sultana, too, admitted that the number of tests is not enough, saying, "So, creating new labs and increasing the capacities of the existing labs are underway. Training is being provided to lab technicians to ensure they are skilled."