Bangladesh should take an aggressive initiative to obtain effective yet low-cost antigen testing kits approved by the World Health Organization, said healthcare experts.
The WHO on Monday announced that 120 million of those rapid diagnostic kits for Covid-19 would be made available to low- and middle-income countries at a cheaper price.
The experts suggested the Bangladesh authorities step up efforts to make sure that the country gets antigen kits under the WHO plan at the earliest.
Terming the WHO initiative outstanding, they said it would increase the testing capacity of poor and developing countries where access to expensive and time-consuming RT-PCR test is limited.
Infectious disease specialist Prof Ridwanur Rahman said, "This is an extremely good initiative. If the authorities want to do something for the people of the country, they should introduce antigen testing immediately."
Bangladesh was already late in this regard while its neighbour India introduced antigen tests a few months back, he told The Daily Star on Tuesday.
According to worldometers.info, Bangladesh is one of the lowly ranked countries in the world in terms of conducting Covid-19 tests considering its population of over 160 million. Besides, 39 district hospitals in the country do not have RT-PCR testing facility.
The WHO approved the rapid testing kits of SD Biosensor, a South Korean manufacturer, and USA's Abbott.
"The manufacturers Abbott and SD Biosensor had agreed with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make 120 million of these new, highly portable and easy-to-use rapid Covid-19 diagnostic tests available over a period of six months," said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in an official release.
Each kit will cost $5, said the release.
Speaking to this correspondent, Prof Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC), yesterday said, "It is a very good progress. We had been facing difficulties in selecting the right kits. As the WHO has prequalified a kit, now it will be easy for us to make a decision."
He, however, warned that picking the right kit is very important.
"There are lots of issues. We have to know the details about the WHO prequalification of the kits as well as the results of the validation tests now in progress at the IEDCR," Nazrul said.
It would be the best if the WHO bought the kits from the company in bulks and supplied them to Bangladesh, he added.
Dr Abdullah Shahriar, head of pediatric cardiology at the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases in Dhaka, said detection of Covid-19 through rapid testing would be a great help to patients in getting timely treatment.
He, however, stressed the need for ensuring the quality of rapid testing kits.
The government on September 17 permitted antigen rapid testing for Covid-19 at the public healthcare centres.
Officials at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said they have approached the WHO country office in Dhaka yesterday in this regard.
DGHS spokesperson Dr Habibur Rahman said, "We have told them that Bangladesh should have the similar benefits, which the other countries would enjoy, from this initiative."
He said the introduction of the antigen kits at 10 specialised and 39 district hospitals would take more than a month.
"We are at the final stage of testing a kit and testing of several others is going on. The validation may be completed within 7-10 days," Habibur said.
The SD Biosensor's testing kit is also among those being tested by IEDCR.
According to a health ministry document obtained by this newspaper, the kits developed by SD Biosensor will cost Tk 700-800 if procured in bulks.
The antigen-based rapid testing is a molecular test, an alternative to the sophisticated RT-PCR test, which detects the presence of the novel coronavirus.
The antigen test involves taking a saliva sample and it can usually determine whether a person is infected within 15-30 minutes.
In 24 hours till 8:00am yesterday, a total of 13,404 samples were tested across the country and 1,436 of them tested positive for Covid-19.
With the latest cases, the total number of people infected with the virus in the country now stands at 363,479, according to a DGHS press release.
Thirty-two people died from Covid-19 during the same 24-hour period, taking the death toll to 5,251.
The death rate now stands at 1.44 percent and the total positivity rate is 18.66 percent, said the release.