The Directorate General of Health Services is not allowing private labs to perform coronavirus tests because they might be more interested in doing business rather than helping in the crisis, it said.
The DG of the health service Professor Dr Abul Kalam Azad said it will not be able to monitor the process if the latter is given permission.
"If necessary, we will do tests in Icddr,b, the Institute of Public Health, and the Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases in Sitakunda.
We also have a lab in Cox's Bazar where tests can be done," added Professor Azad.
Currently, Only the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) performs coronavirus tests in its lab.
There are several private healthcare institutions that have adequate facilities to do such tests but they are not getting permission.
Professor Azad, told The Business Standard, private hospitals would take advantage of the situation if they were allowed to perform the test.
Dr Azad said, "They might say a person has tested positive even though the test result says otherwise. At present, we cannot monitor this," he explained.
He said the coronavirus situation was not the same as dengue fever.
The health directorate chief also said there was no need to send people to private hospitals for test.
However, Dr Mamunur Rashid of the Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases said,"We have a biosafety lab. It takes three to five hours to do a test. How many tests we are able to do depends on how many kits we have," he added.
Pakistan, India allow private hospitals to do tests
Different countries in the world have allowed private hospitals to do coronavirus tests, including Pakistan, India, Spain and the UK.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already praised Pakistan's measures to tackle coronavirus.
The health ministry in Spain on Monday announced it would put all private health providers and their facilities into public control as the spread of coronavirus continued to grip the country.
The UK's National Health Service is to join forces with the private health sector this week in an emergency plan to combat the situation. There is growing fear in the island country that public hospitals will soon be unable to cope with the number of patients.
A Bloomberg report said India on Tuesday had announced that state-authorised private laboratories would be allowed to conduct tests.
"But the government is yet to release the list of authorised labs," said Dr Lokesh Kumar Sharma, spokesperson for the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Pakistan's Dawn reported that some private labs were independently testing people against a fee.
In Bangladesh, however, the private hospitals have only been directed to open isolation units, but most of them have not complied with it.
Some hospitals said they were interested in doing the tests but had not been given permission yet.
Dr Shagufa Anwar, chief of communication and business development at United Hospital, told The Business Standard her hospital had adequate lab facilities to do tests but the government was not giving permission.
The Apollo Hospitals Dhaka authorities said they have all the required lab facilities to do tests.
They said they would start conducting tests once the government gave permission.
'Public medical universities should be permitted to do tests'
Experts, meanwhile, said there had been local transmission of coronavirus in the country, with five of the 10 patients being infected this way.
That is why big private hospitals having the necessary lab facilities should be allowed to do tests in addition to the IEDCR, they added.
Dr Muzaherul Huq, former adviser of the WHO's Southeast Asia region, said only the returnees and those who had come in contact with them had been tested so far.
"But now we also need to test those who live here and show symptoms such as fever, cough and sneezing," he said.
Muzaherul added that the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and the public medical universities should be permitted as soon as possible to do tests.
"Moreover, the IEDCR should provide training and adequate lab facilities for those institutions," the health expert said.
But the health authorities said doing more tests might spread panic.
IEDCR Director Professor Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora told a press briefing on Tuesday there was no need to be panicked considering the current situation.
"So far, we only have got patients who are returnees or their family members. No one has been infected outside the families," she said.
Flora also claimed there had not been community transmission of the virus in Bangladesh yet.
"Do not be scared and think that you have been infected if you sneeze, or have cough and sore throat," added the IEDCR chief.
'New kits coming'
The IEDCR chief told a press briefing on Sunday 2,000 kits were brought to do tests.
So far, the IEDCR has done 326 tests.
On Tuesday, 49 tests were done, and the number was 27 on Monday.
Dr Azad of the health directorate on Tuesday told The Business Standard it was still not certain when new testing kits would arrive.
"I do not know the exact number of kits left at present, he said.
"The WHO said new kits would come soon. We are also trying to buy kits commercially," he added.
Professor Mahmudur Rahman, member of the Advisory Council of the WHO Preparedness Committee on Epidemic, said the WHO would have supplied kits to Bangladesh faster if there were more cases.
"As the organisation has to supply kits worldwide, there is a question as to how many kits it will be able to give us. Another issue is that we have only 10 cases, and the WHO assistance will come in accordance with that level of infection," he explained.
"However, given our dense population and other social conditions, Bangladesh should be among the priority countries to get kits. There are ways to procure kits commercially, but we are solely depending on the WHO," added Mahmudur.
Gonoshasthaya Kendra seeks permission to produce kit
Gonoshasthaya Kendra in a press release on Tuesday said it was going to develop a point-of-care kit to detect coronavirus in collaboration with RNA Biotech Limited, a laboratory in Dhaka.
Point-of-care testing is a simple medical test performed close to the patient where the results are available faster than samples sent to a laboratory.
"We applied for the Directorate General of Drug Administration approval. With its permission, we will be ready for production in a month," the press release read.
Gonoshasthaya hopes to supply the kit at Tk200 to vendors or labs.
It also said the government should take regulatory measures so that the common people can do the test within a cost of Tk300.