Fresh crisis over Covid testing

A few RT-PCR machines, used for Covid-19 testing, remained out of order at a time when coronavirus cases are on the rise with the advent of winter.

Experts said the number of daily tests was already low compared to the country’s population and such developments would only aggravate the situation.

Government officials said 172 hospitals have 177 RT-PCR machines across the country. Of them, four to five were out of order. The officials, however, claimed that it did not make any difference since samples meant to be tested with those machines were being sent to labs elsewhere.

The RT-PCR machine at Barishal Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital was out of order for three days from December 3, said the medical college’s virology department head, Akbar Hossain.

“This is the only PCR machine in the entire Barishal division. So, when the machine went out of order, the whole testing process got stuck. We need another machine to ensure uninterrupted testing,” he said, adding that the machine was fixed and the testing would resume today.

Take another example.
Cumilla Medical College Hospital has the only RT-PCR in the district. But lately, the machine started malfunctioning and giving false results. The testing there was suspended on November 30 and resumed yesterday, Md Niatuzzaman, civil surgeon of Cumilla, told The Daily Star.

The Daily Star visited Mugda General Hospital in the capital yesterday and found a notice on the hospital gate that said, “Covid-19 testing remains suspended due to unavoidable reasons.”

A staffer of the hospital’s emergency department said the RT-PCR machine there was out of service. Every day, the machine would test 180-200 samples, he said.

Contacted, Dr Md Habibur Rahman, director of Management Information System (MIS) of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said, “Machines sometimes go out of order and we try our best to repair them within the shortest possible time. It takes two to five days to repair a RT-PCR machine.”

RT-PCR machines needed regular maintenance. Otherwise, they start to give false results, he said.

DGHS Additional DG Nasima Sultana said the RT-PCR machine in Barishal had already been fixed. Others would be repaired soon too.

“Normally, RT-PCR machines are supposed to be run once a day. But we are using them multiples times since the testing begun. So, these machines would go out of service and it is normal. We, however, are carrying out the tests at other labs to cope with the demand,” she added.

Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS, said it was extremely important to ensure uninterrupted testing to fight any possible second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak. He stressed on expanding testing facilities immediately.

Testing is important because it lowers the risk of infection, he said.

“The number of daily tests is low in Bangladesh. We need to test around 50,000-60,000 samples every day. When the number remains so low the situation can go out of hand if the RT-PCR machines become non-functional,” he warned.

He reminded that the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths caused by the virus was going up as the cold intensified.

On Saturday, Health Minister Zahid Maleque urged people to get tested for Covid-19. “Patients have to come for tests,” he said, adding that people were not coming for tests.

As of yesterday, the country tested 28,77,538 samples, shows data from the DGHS.

Currently, the total Covid-19 positivity rate in Bangladesh stands at 16.67 percent while the death rate at 1.43pc.

According to www.worldometers.info, 17,398 out of every one million people in the country have so far been tested, whereas the number is 625,164 in the United States, 382,729 in Italy and 106,639 in India.

RT-PCR, in which samples from nose and throat are swabbed, is considered the gold standard for Covid-19 tests.

Health officials, however, said one of the major challenges with PCR machines was that they could not do a huge number of tests in a single day.

Thirty-six people died from Covid-19 and at least 2,198 people tested positive for the virus in 24 hours till 8:30am yesterday, according to a DGHS press release.

The total number of deaths climbed to 6,874 and the death rate stood at 1.43 percent. The country has so far reported 4,79,743 infections, added the release.

The current positivity rate is 15.3 percent while the total positivity rate stands at 16.67 percent.

At least 14,369 samples were tested across the country in those 24 hours. In the meantime, 2,663 Covid-19 patients have recovered, the DGHS added in the release. (News sources: thedailystar.net)


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