To bring more people under its Covid-19 testing programme faster and at a lower cost, non-governmental organization Brac has started rapid antigen tests in Dhaka and Chattogram.
Since Saturday, Brac has introduced 16 booths for antigen testing – 15 in Dhaka and 1 in Chattogram – in addition to the existing 194 government laboratories.
At the booths, 106 people were tested on Saturday, of whom 12 tested positive for Covid-19.
According to the health directorate, 1,254 tests were done in 194 government antigen laboratories on Saturday, taking the total number of antigen tests in the country to 36,943.
According to the health directorate, a month ago, some 591 antigen tests were conducted in 73 laboratories around the country and overall, 13,664 tests were conducted. The number has multiplied in the last one month.
According to official data, antigen tests were launched on 5 December last year in ten districts – Gaibandha, Panchagarh, Joypurhat, Jessore, Meherpur, Brahmanbaria, Patuakhali, Munshiganj, Madaripur, and Sylhet.
Even though this initiative was extending officially, no private organisation was allowed to conduct antigen tests.
Meanwhile, public health experts have been advising the government to increase antigen testing to identify more patients in light of the growing infection rate. Under such circumstances, the government has allowed Brac to start testing.
Dr Minara Zaman, technical manager of Brac Health, Nutrition and Population Programme, said, "We have been working with the Directorate of Health since the beginning of the pandemic with PCR testing and now we have started antigen testing under the supervision of the Health Department."
"Since the infection rate is high now, we started the testing from Saturday without wasting time. The government is also looking to increase the scope of antigen tests as results can be obtained quickly and at a low cost," she added.
Dr Minara said Brac is doing its best to help the government with the testing and if needed, more booths will be installed. She added that the government also asked Brac to test as many people as necessary.
"If tested within seven days of the onset of symptoms, 99% of the test results are correct. So, we hope the antigen testing will play an important role in rapid Covid patient identification," Dr Minara further said.
In this regard, Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, public health specialist and adviser to the IEDCR, said there are more patients and more pressure for tests in Dhaka. Every day, long queues of people are seen at Mugda Medical College Hospital, the BSMMU and Brac's sample collection booth.
"Patients have to stand for hours in long lines with fever. If antigen tests are introduced in these places, more people can be tested in a short time. As the test is in high demand, more and more antigen tests need to be carried out in the highly infected areas," he added.
"Antigen tests, like the RT-PCR tests, do not require much arrangement or skilled manpower. We have enough skilled manpower for antigen testing in our health sector," Husain continued.
He also said that there is no kit crisis for antigen tests and even if a crisis arises, the kits can be easily imported.
According to Brac, the testing campaign will run from 9 am to 12 pm every day from Saturday to Thursday and about 150 samples will be tested each day at each booth. However, Brac plans to expand the program to 32 infected areas in Dhaka and four more in Chattogram.
Regarding this, in an online message, Morsheda Chowdhury, director of Brac's Health, Nutrition, and Population programme, said as the second wave of the pandemic was quick, more testing is very important.
"Our antigen testing programme will accelerate the government's existing programme. If the test is positive, it will be informed within 30 minutes and the positive result will be uploaded on the website within 3 – 4 hours whereas it takes more than 24 hours to get the result of the PCR test," Chowdhury continued.
She also urged everyone to comply with the health regulations and isolate people with symptoms after antigen testing.
Since 11 March last year, Brac has been collecting samples of suspected patients and conducting PCR tests at designated booths.