More than five lakh Covid-19 testing kits have been lying in the warehouses of several companies in the capital for the last couple of months.
But the picture is just the opposite in some testing centres in the capital, Gazipur and Narayanganj. They are facing an acute shortage of kits which forced them to reduce the number of daily tests and even suspend testing.
A number of the suppliers have alleged that the Central Medical Store Depot (CMSD) is delaying the process of approval and delivery of the kits. They also claimed that the CMSD on a few occasions made whimsical decisions without giving any explanations.
As per the procedures, on receipt of a work order for testing kits, a supplier has to get validated samples of the kits by a government-recognised medical institution.
It usually takes a day to test a sample of a kit and get the results, said officials involved in the process.
In April, the CMSD, which is responsible for public purchase and distribution of medical equipment across the country, issued work orders to nine companies for supplying it with around 11 lakh testing kits, including Chinese, European and Turkish ones.
Of the firms, Toma Construction and Company Ltd got a work order for 100,000 Italian kits. It brought the kits from Italy through Genetic Trading at the end of May.
The company on May 31 wrote to the CMSD, requesting it to receive the kits. In response, the CMSD said samples of the kits have to be validated by either the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) or Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).
"We sent samples of the kits to the IEDCR. We recently learnt that the IEDCR gave its report to the CMSD. We don't know the contents of the report. We haven't received any update on it …. The kits have been stored for more than a month," said AKM Kamruzzaman, managing director of Genetic Trading, which imported the kits for Toma Construction.
Contacted, Toma Construction officials declined to comment as the matter is still pending with the CMSD.
There are other firms that also ran into trouble over supplying kits.
Sterling Multi Technologies Ltd got a work order for supplying 100,000 testing kits in April. It imported the kits from Turkey the following month.
On June 16, the CMSD wrote to the company, asking it to immediately supply 25,000 kits. The CMSD, however, suspended the previous work order for 100,000 kits.
"We got a work order for supplying 100,000 kits. But later we were asked to supply 25,000 kits. We have already imported 100,000 kits. I don't know why the CMSD made such a decision," Jahirul Islam, executive director of Sterling Multi Technologies Ltd, told this correspondent.
Another supplier, Unimed Limited, struck a deal with the CMSD for supplying 100,000 kits on May 19.
"We wrote to the CMSD on June 16, requesting it to receive the kits. The CMSD asked us to get the samples of the kits validated by the IEDCR," said Jamal Uddin, director of Unimed Limited.
"On June 21, we sent a letter to the IEDCR, requesting it to test the samples as per the CMSD's request. More than a week later, the IEDCR informed us that it cannot conduct such tests unless the CMSD writes to it.
"We are now stuck in limbo," he said.
Md Shofiqul Islam, proprietor of SB Solution, said they got a work order for 100,000 kits and imported those on May 23.
"The CMSD officials asked us to supply 50,000 kits a few days ago and we obliged. The rest of the kits are with us. We don't know why the CMSD is not receiving those," he said.
Asked why the CMSD is dillydallying over the process, CMSD Director Abu Hena Morshed Zaman in a WhatsApp message said, "Please talk to the DG Health or the press wing of the [health] ministry or my predecessor. I am a newcomer here. Allow me time to check the things and take initiatives to solve problems, if any, from my end."
He refused to comment further.
Contacted, Abul Kalam Azad, director of the DGHS, in a text message wrote, "Please talk to our media cell."
Asked, Dr Ayesha Akther, spokesperson for the DGHS, claimed there is no testing kit crisis in the country as 1.88 lakh kits are now at the DGHS's disposal.
Enquired about the stocks of kits lying with several local companies, she said, "So far, I know those kits were in the process of validation, and if the kits get approval, those will be received."