The government is planning to buy 2 lakh antigen test kits for diagnosing Covid-19 infection among people quickly at a lower cost and the tests will begin as soon as the kits arrive.
Many nations, including the USA, members of the European Union and India, are carrying out antigen tests to contain the second wave, and Bangladesh approved the move on 17 September after recommendations from the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19.
Confirming the matter, Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) told The Business Standard, "We have started the process for performing antigen tests, and it will begin as soon as the kits arrive.
"We are directly buying 2 lakh kits through the Central Medical Store Depot. The government will also provide funds to UNICEF under the Annual Development Programme (ADP), so that the agency can get us an additional 10 lakh kits."
She continued, "We will deliver the antigen test kits to the points of care, so we are talking to the World Bank and others regarding how to buy more. The kits will come in multiple phases.
"The process of buying the kits, as well as their evaluation currently continues. The government is working on a priority basis on the matter."
Providing more details, Prof Sabrina said, "The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved two antigen kits so far. Besides those, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved a number of such kits.
"We always give priority to WHO's approvals, and we are in the process of buying those specific kits. Different kits from different countries are coming to us, they are currently being evaluated. If they are up to the mark, we will use them."
The WHO on 28 September 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.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, recently said, "High-quality rapid tests show us where the virus is hiding, which is key to quickly tracing and isolating contacts, and breaking the chains of transmission.
"The tests are a critical tool for governments as they look to reopen economies and ultimately save both lives and livelihoods."
However, in Bangladesh, Covid-19 tests are still being conducted only in 109 labs across the country through reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). So far 2,112,448 samples have been tested for Covid-19, and 382,959 people tested positive so far.
Professor Nazrul Islam, a noted virologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told The Business Standard, "Many districts do not have PCR test facilities. So, Covid-19 tests can be done easily in those areas with the antigen test kits.
"Using this method, the real scenario of the virus infection can properly be known."
Prof Nazrul Islam, who is also a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, added, "We have been advising the government to begin antigen tests for the past few months, as it is faster and less costly than PCR tests.
"People will be benefited if those tests are launched as soon as possible. I am urging the authorities to begin the antigen testing process by collecting good quality test kits soon.
Countries turn to rapid antigen tests
Countries struggling to contain a second wave of Covid-19 infections are turning to faster and cheaper tests to diagnose and trace the infected people quickly.
Germany, where infections jumped by 4,122 on Tuesday to 329,453, has conducted 9 million antigen tests per month that can deliver a result in minutes and cost about 5 euros each. That would cover more than 10% of the population, read a Reuters report on Tuesday.
The United States and Canada are also buying millions of antigen test kits, as is Italy, whose recent tender for five million test kits attracted offers from 35 companies.
How reliable are the tests?
A positive antigen test result is considered very accurate, but there is an increased chance of false-negative results – meaning it is possible to be infected with the virus but have a negative result.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Food and Drugs administration have also advised getting a PCR test if you test negative in a rapid antigen test.
Dr ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer at the IEDCR, said the antigen test is not the gold standard, as its sensitivity is generally lower than the RT-PCR. If someone has signs and symptoms of the Covid-19and an antigen test report comes back negative, a PCR test must also be done.