Asia - Pacific, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Bangladesh keeps coronavirus antibody tests on limited individual level

9 months after receiving approval, authorities allow testing only for research purposes

SM Najmus Sakib   | 10.10.2021
Bangladesh keeps coronavirus antibody tests on limited individual level

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Coronavirus antibody testing in Bangladesh remains restricted at the individual level for those who are suspected to have contracted the virus.

Blood is used as a sample in antibody tests which takes 10 to 30 minutes for a result. At present, only a limited number of antibodies are tested for research.

Experts Anadolu Agency talked to questioned the restrictions and suggested allowing testing so patients can know if they are developing antibodies after taking vaccines. They said antibody testing could inspire people to take vaccines and boost the government-run inoculation campaign.

Meanwhile, many remain asymptomatic and need antibody testing, and it is important to understand the country’s pandemic situation, they said.

Coronavirus antibody testing was approved in Bangladesh in late January. But health officials claimed it was solely for research at public and private institutions.

Professor ABM Khurshid Alam, the head of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told Anadolu Agency that authorities approved antibody testing only for institutional and research purposes.

“Authorized laboratories, postgraduate medical colleges and institutes are given the permission to conduct antibody tests for research purposes.”

He said he could not explain the exact cause for not giving authorization on an individual level.

In June 2020, the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on COVID suggested antibody and antigens -- early virus detection tests. The same recommendation was made by an expert committee formed by the Ministry of Health to give its opinion on a sample test extension policy.

The two bodies said it was important to start antigen and antibody tests to understand the country's infection situation. But only antigen tests were started in Bangladesh.

“The health regulatory body could explain as to why they did not approve it for the individual level but we, the national expert committee on COVID, suggested the government allow it for personal level upon ensuring necessary health safety protocols,” Dr. Mohammad Shahidullah, the head of the NTAC told Anadolu Agency.

He warned that unnecessary antibody testing could affect the tendency to maintain health safety guidelines if people think developing antibodies can further protect them from infection.

“If we could ensure all the necessary safety procedures then it will surely be a good decision to allow it on an individual level,” said Shahidullah, emphasizing authorized testing and credible testing kits.

He urged the government to lower RT-PCR and antigen test costs as antibody testing is more significant for research than on a personal level.

Bangladesh reported 27,647 coronavirus deaths and 1,561,878 infections since the first case was detected in March 2020, according to Worldometer, a website that compiles new case numbers.

Experts suggest caution in reliable testing

Mushtaq Hossain, a virologist, and advisor to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research, however, suggested something different, with cautions.

He told Anadolu Agency that antibody testing is not reliable for a single person to determine the virus situation.

“The test result could mislead an individual as it is most representative for a big population or region to know the situation of how many people developed antibodies against any virus or disease, and to know if the virus is spread out in any given area,” he said. “The test also can be done for better treatment in hospitals and antibodies can be tested among groups of vaccinated people to know the situation of improvement and developing antibodies after inoculation campaigns in the country.”

And, the test could provide a general understanding of the infection situation of a person but only a health specialist or physician can interpret test results, said Hossain, adding that “Bangladesh is following the trend as followed by the rest of the world on antibody tests for COVID.”​​​​​​​

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