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Bangladesh: Low COVID-19 testing rate raises concerns

Less than 22,000 people have been tested in country of over 160 million so far

SM Najmus Sakib   | 19.04.2020
Bangladesh: Low COVID-19 testing rate raises concerns

DHAKA, Bangladesh  - Concerns continue to grow in Bangladesh over the country's limited coronavirus testing capacity, with experts urging the government to focus on increasing daily tests to ensure a successful fight against the pandemic.

As per government data, Bangladesh had tested 21,191 people by Saturday, over 40 days since the country's first COVID-19 case was reported on March 8.

A total of 2,144 people have tested positive so far, 84 of whom have died and 66 have recovered.

According to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), which operates under the Health Ministry, there are 19 laboratories in Bangladesh, including 10 in the capital Dhaka, that can carry out coronavirus tests.

The combined capacity of these 19 labs is about 5,000 samples per day, but authorities have been conducting only 2,100 tests over the past few days.

Bangladesh, which has a population of over 160 million, has the second lowest number of tests in Asia with just 90 per one million people, according to data compiled by Worldometer.

Neighboring Myanmar is at the bottom of the list with 52 samples per million.

Fatal path

Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury, a leading Bangladeshi public health activist, said the country's low testing capacity could have dire consequences for the population.

"We need to be testing at least 10,000 samples every day so that COVID-19 patients can be promptly identified and isolated," he told Anadolu Agency.

"The IEDCR has about 60,000 testing kits right now. I don't understand why the authorities are so reluctant to pursue large-scale testing. If we continue on this path, it will be fatal for this country and its people."

He warned that more than 50,000 people could die across Bangladesh if the government fails to take prompt action to boost testing.

Chowdhury and Gonoshasthaya Kendra, a rural health care organization that he founded, have developed a $3 testing kit touted as being able to detect the coronavirus in less than 15 minutes.

"We can produce 100,000 testing kits per month with the raw materials we have at the moment. But, the Islamic Development Bank has recently assured us of providing more materials. If that happens, we can make two million kits in a single month," he said, adding that a meeting on the matter would be held in the coming days.

He said that this could be a major development for Bangladesh, but accused the government of non-cooperation.

Hidden threats

While government officials have previously admitted the need to increase testing, they also point out the difficulty in making people realize the importance of having themselves tested.

Nasima Sultana, a top official at Bangladesh's Directorate General of Health Services, told Anadolu Agency on Friday that many COVID-19 patients were reluctant to get tested due to fear of isolation and stigma.

Her views were echoed by Health Minister Zahid Maleque at a news conference in Dhaka on Friday, as he urged people with symptoms to inform authorities so that they could be tested.

On Thursday, 13 healthcare workers, including five doctors and five nurses, tested positive for coronavirus after treating two patients who "hid their identities as virus carriers."

"The healthcare workers were infected after two patients who got treatment in the hospital's surgery department hid their identities as virus carriers," Brayan Bankim Halder, director of the Mitford Hospital in Dhaka, told Anadolu Agency on Friday.

Safety concerns

As per official data, about 100 doctors and 57 nurses have tested positive for COVID-19 in Bangladesh, with one fatality so far.

The figure is due in part to a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and lax quality of available PPE kits.

Earlier this week, a 50-year-old doctor died at a hospital in Dhaka, becoming the first health worker killed in the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

A member of his family, who works at the same government hospital, alleged in media interviews that substandard PPE provided by the Health Ministry was being used at the medical facility.

Chowdhury, the public health activist, said most government hospitals, including the ones in Dhaka, were not properly prepared to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

He called for dedicated efforts to increase safety of healthcare workers and suggested measures such as insurance coverage and special allowances to boost their morale.

Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.
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