Coronavirus in Bangladesh: ‘Want to supply 5 lakh kits per month’
12:00 AM, March 24, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:54 AM, March 24, 2020

‘Want to supply 5 lakh kits per month’

Says Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury on Gonoshasthaya Kendra’s coronavirus detection initiatives

Gonoshasthaya Kendra has developed a kit it claims can detect the novel coronavirus quickly and at a much cheaper price than the currently-used technology. Under the leadership of Dr Bijon Kumar Sil, a team of scientists invented a method of testing for the virus, and raw materials for production of the kit are being imported from the UK.

Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder and trustee Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury yesterday spoke to The Daily Star on the production of the kit, and his plans with it going forward.

TDS: At which stage is the production process?

ZC: The process of importing the raw materials from Britain is underway. We're hoping to receive the materials within tomorrow.

Once the materials reach Bangladesh, those must be released quickly. According to government rules, we'll get duty-free benefits. However, we have not yet received the documents for the process.

If there are any bureaucratic delays regarding the documents, the production process will also be delayed. So it's imperative that the raw materials are released fast.

TDS: Will you be able to start production as soon as you receive the raw materials?

Primarily, we will make 10,000 kits within a week, using the equipment. We will hand some over to the health ministry and WHO, so they can test the kits.

The director general of DGHS said such kits get inaccurate results.

He made a very irresponsible remark. I was quite surprised. One should not make such remarks without testing. Researchers did their job and developed a kit, and you completely disregard it saying it doesn't work properly? Why such distrust on local researchers? Dr Bijon Kumar Sil's SARS virus detection kit was bought by China and used successfully. Everyone should know this information.

Can the kit go into production as soon as it passes the accuracy test?

Using the equipment we have, we can supply 10,000 kits per month, primarily. But we're planning to produce over 5 lakh kits per month. We're planning to expand the plant. For that, we need around Tk 20 crore urgently. While we have property, we do not have cash. We're trying to take out a loan at the moment, but there's no progress on that matter yet.

As far as I know, USAID has expressed their intention to support this initiative.

USAID has contacted us and discussions are ongoing. It hasn't been decided how exactly they can support us. They may donate, or buy us equipment, or give us a grant. They can help us take out a loan from IFC with three percent interest. We can keep property worth Tk 100 crore as collateral to take out a Tk 20 crore loan. Our only condition is, no one can interfere with the research.

Have you asked the government? Could the government provide the money?

How do I ask, who do I ask? We haven't been able to discuss it with the government. If we could discuss, I could explain the kit and bring up the topic of funding. The government is giving USD 15 lakh to the Saarc fund. If they gave us this amount of money, we could move into large-scale production. All Saarc countries would be benefited with this kit.

It was going around that the prime minister asked to meet Dr Bijon at her residence.

There was no formal invitation for our team of researchers. There are three more people in this team -- Dr Nihad Adnan, Dr Md Raeed Zamiruddin and Dr Firoz Ahmed. If there is any invitation, everyone should be included. But no one, including Dr Bijon, received any formal word.

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