Although the much-talked-about antigen test kicked off in ten districts across the country on Saturday, there is a lackluster response from Covid test takers.
Sources said a fewer than 10 samples were tested in most districts yesterday.
The long-awaited antigen-based testing began two-and-a-half months after the health ministry's approval.
Talking to civil surgeons and hospital authorities in different districts, it came to be known that the authorities concerned are taking money from Covid-19 symptomatic patients despite the government declaration that the antigen-based test should be free.
The 10 districts that began antigen testing since yesterday are Jashore, Brahmanbaria, Gaibandha, Joypurhat, Madaripur, Meherpur, Munshiganj, Panchagarh, Patuakhali, and Sylhet.
Health Minister Zahid Malik announced the launch of the antigen test virtually on Saturday morning.
Health Secretary Abdul Mannan and Director General of the Health Department AKM Khurshid Alam, along with 10 district civil surgeons, connected to the event through zoom video communications.
Speaking at the inaugural function, the health minister said the testing is very important for the treatment of Covid-19.
"We have started antigen-based testing in the districts where there are no PCR labs. The test results will be available shortly," he added.
Zahid Malik said such tests will be introduced to districts without a PCR lab, in phases.
"Covid-19 cases and deaths are on the rise and so it is necessary to identify and treat Covid-19 through antigen testing," he added.
The health minister called upon everyone to wear facemask to protect against infection.
"We are trying for vaccines. The vaccine will be brought in once the World Health Organisation approves it. Till then, wearing a mask is the most effective measure," he continued.
Prof Meerjadi Sabrina Flora, additional director general, Department of Health, gave a powerpoint presentation at the beginning of the programme.
She said the antigen test can be taken within one to seven days from novel coronavirus symptoms being found.
The test will be conducted in the labs of 10 government hospitals in the country which will reduce the burden on the PCR test, hopes Flora.
The health official described why the PCR test has some limitations.
The sensitivity of antigen test is 80% and so there is a possibility of a false negative report, she said.
"If a suspected patient has a negative Covid-19 result through an antigen test, even after having symptoms, it can be confirmed by a PCR test. If the antigen test is positive, that person will be considered positive," she continued.
In his address, Health Secretary Abdul Mannan said new research is being done every day to deal with Corona and the government is also trying to figure out how to shield people more efficiently from the deadly pathogen.
He added that the antigen testing will be offered free of cost.
Director General of the Department of Health Prof Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam said antigen tests will also start at large hospitals and also in those infirmaries dedicated for the novel coronavirus.
He added that the Department of Health is going to set up a mobile Covid-19 testing lab at Ashkona Hajj Camp, which will operate in the vicinity of the Uttara and Diabari quarantine centres.
Antigen test status in districts
Within 15-30 minutes after the inauguration, three suspected patients at Jashore Sadar Hospital took the antigen test. The first two samples tested negative.
The district Civil Surgeon Sheikh Abu Shahin said they had been awaiting antigen tests for a long time.
"People also had demand. This will allow us to quickly identify patients, isolate and treat them," he added.
The antigen tests are being performed on suspected Covid-19 patients who have symptoms.
Those who do not have symptoms will not be subject to testing. In addition, due to the decline in people's interest in Covid-19 tests, a small number of symptomatic individuals took the antigen-based test on the first day, yesterday.
The antigen test was carried out on 12 suspected patients at Munshiganj General Hospital yesterday, of whom seven tested positive.
Dr Abul Kalam Azad, a civil surgeon in Munshiganj, told The Business Standard that the remaining five samples would be sent to the National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine's lab for RT PCR tests.
Patuakhali Civil Surgeon Jahangir Alam Shipon told TBS that three people underwent antigen testing at Patuakhali Medical College Hospital on Saturday, but everyone's report is negative.
A number of three suspected patients went under antigen tests at the 250-bed General Hospital in Meherpur, but all the three were negative, said district Civil Surgeon Dr Nasir Uddin.
In Sylhet, Shaheed Shamsuddin Medical College collected 10 samples. Of them, five tested positive, said Dr Supanta Mohapatra, Residential Medical Officer (RMO) of the hospital.
Meanwhile, Brahmanbaria Sadar Hospital has also started the testing. Three people have provided their samples.
According to our Rangpur correspondent, two Covid-19 positive patients were found in Gaibandha and Panchagarh through the antigen test yesterday. They have been kept in isolation.
On 5 July, the DGHS asked the Ministry of Health to allow antigen-based Covid-19 testing.
The National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 also recommended it several times.
At last, the government issued a circular on 17 September allowing antigen-based rapid testing for Covid-19 at hospitals and health institutes across the country.