Test seekers in quagmire

Efforts to fight Covid-19 menace in disarray

As the demand for Covid-19 tests in the country has skyrocketed amid a high tide of coronavirus infections, the suspected patients are forced to go through untold sufferings while trying to avail the tests.

Accessing Covid-19 tests for common people has become almost impossible.
‘Connections’ and ‘recommendations’ are now inevitable to get tested in little less than week at the government-run laboratories, said affected people.

Suspected patients even venture out of home in the evening to have a chance to wait in queues overnight at lab premises to submit their samples. Getting a slot for giving the samples at private labs is a bit easier, but still not possible in two to three days.
Almost all the private labs are now collecting samples from home and at outdoor facilities on a very limited scale as they are overrun with test seekers.

The miseries of being able to submit samples apart, getting the test report is another painful experience.
It takes no less than a week and even up to 15 days to obtain Covid-19 test reports from government labs while private labs take three to four days.

“It must make you feel panicky if you think about getting tested for Covid-19 let alone the treatment,” said a private farm executive to this correspondent, requesting to arrange testing slots for his wife and children.

He said that he got his own test done from a government facility but the test reports arrived a week after providing the sample.
“Fortunately I was still alive when I received the test result that said that I was Covid-19 positive,” he heaved a sigh, adding that many patients were dying with of Covid-19 symptoms untested and unconfirmed.

A Filipino died with Covid-19 symptoms at Chattogram Medical College Hospital on Friday night while under treatment before getting the test report in 16 days.

The Integrated Covid-19 Control Room under the Directorate General of Health Services coordinates the collection of samples and tests.

The control room also updates on the daily infections and deaths every day in an online bulletin.
But it is not clear as to how they compile the data, since the collection of samples, tests and the test reports from across the country are not updated in a day.

‘The DGHS daily bulletin about the update of the infections and deaths are confusing,” said noted virologist Nazrul Islam.
“We are not sure if the disclosed data about infections and deaths in the past 24 hours in every day bulletin are actually the statement of the past 24 hours or not,” he said.

“When the daily bulletin is not the reflection of the real-time situation, it is meaningless to disclose the figures and they are misleading as well,’ he added.

“With the present testing situation, we’ll not get the real picture and will fail to take evidence-based actions,” said Nazrul, also a member of the Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19.

Bangladesh is one of the lowest Covid-19 testing countries in the world.
The country is now in the 16th week of infection since the recording of first Covid-19 cases on March 8. So far, 112,306 cases have been identified and 1,464 patients have died.

The country is on the 17th position in the world in terms of infections but 147th in terms of testing among 215 countries.
The Covid-19 tests per million population is 3,736 in Bangladesh, according to the worldometers.info.

The tests are available at 62 labs across the country — 32 in the capital and 30 in districts.
Among the 32 labs in the capital, 17 are private ones where a test costs Tk 3,800.

So far, 6,15,164 people have been tested but it is not clear if any patient having the test done earlier is considered as new cases when they come for the test for the second or third time.

The DGHS also does not have any area-specific data about the concentration of patients.
DGHS director for Communicable Diseases, Shahnila Ferdousi, said that they could not provide area-specific patient data.
‘The tests are being done across the country and the local health authorities are handling the patients…We cannot say about area-wise patient distribution or where the patients are taking treatment — at home or at hospital,’ she said.

National Health Emergency Control Room and Operation Centre in-charge Ayesha Akhter said that the management of tests, sample collection and test report delivery and record keeping are done by the Integrated Covid-19 Control Room.

She said that DGHS additional director general Nasima Sultana, who heads the integrated control room, could say about the matter.

Nasima did not respond to the phone calls made by this correspondent.
DGHS director general Abul Kalam Azad, director for management information system Habibur Rahman and Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research director Meerjady Sabrina Flora could not be reached for comments despite efforts.
DGHS public relations officer Akkas Ali Sheikh said, “No official will entertain any question.”

Bangladesh Medical Association’s former president Rashid-e-Mahbub said that the DGHS was failing to manage the Covid-19 situation in all respect.
‘The tests, the isolation of patients, their treatment — all are going on in an unorganised way,’ he said.