Meherpur is one of the 10 districts where the government has been performing antigen tests for rapid detection of Covid-19 patients since 5 December.
On the first day, only three antigen tests were done. Eleven days later, the number of tests per day has remained more or less the same. Only one day, the district recorded 10 antigen tests which is the highest so far.
The picture of antigen testing is the same in the remaining nine districts.
In the last 11 days, only 727 antigen tests have been conducted in these districts. That means the average tests per day is around 65 and the average daily tests per district is only seven to eight.
Dr Nasir Uddin, civil surgeon of Meherpur, told The Business Standard that they are not getting enough samples for antigen testing maintaining the guidelines issued by the health ministry.
The ministry says that antigen testing should be done within five to seven days of the appearance of Covid-19 symptoms. If there is no symptom, no antigen test should be done.
Dr Nasir Uddin said the number of tests is low since they do not test anyone without symptoms, in compliance with the instructions of the ministry.
He also mentioned a lack of publicity about antigen testing as another major reason behind the low number of tests. "People do not even know much about it."
According to the Department of Health, 102 samples were tested in these 10 districts on 15 December. This is the highest number of tests in a single day so far.
Dr Supanta Mohapatra, residential medical officer at Shaheed Shamsuddin Medical College, Sylhet told The Business Standard, "Around 10-15 tests were performed daily in the first two-three days after the beginning of antigen testing. Now it has come down to seven to eight tests."
To increase the scope of Covid-19 tests, the government introduced antigen tests in ten districts that do not have RT-PCR labs. The districts are Jashore, Brahmanbaria, Gaibandha, Joypurhat, Madaripur, Meherpur, Munshiganj, Panchagarh, Patuakhali, and Sylhet.
The government has allowed antigen testing only at government hospitals. Private hospitals or clinics cannot do this test.
The National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 recommended the introduction of antigen tests for providing quick treatment to critically ill non-Covid-19 patients and those who need surgery.
But these patients are not being able to get the antigen test because of the government's directive of no test without symptoms. As a result, these patients who do not have any Covid-19 symptoms and have to be admitted to hospitals for quick treatment have to rely on the RT-PCR test.
Prof Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said, "We recommended antigen test to make it easier for the non-Covid-19 critical patients and patients who need surgery to get treatment. But now we are seeing that they also have to wait for the RT-PCR test as before. As a result, many unexpected deaths are happening."
"Like the antigen test, the sensitivity of the RT-PCR test is not one hundred percent. So, it is better to start treatment with at least an antigen test than to start treatment of critical patients without a test. This will allow patients to receive faster care and also reduce the risk of coronavirus infection in physicians," he added.
Professor Nazrul Islam thinks we are not getting any benefit from the introduction of the antigen test. "Antigen tests have been arranged in only one hospital in each of the ten districts. With less than ten tests a day, it is impossible to get an accurate idea about the infection situation in the districts," he added.
DGHS Spokesperson Habibur Rahman said, "We will test all the people who come with the symptoms of Covid-19. But if there is no symptom, the test will not be done. There is no shortage of antigen test capacity. We have enough test kits."
Many countries, including India, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, have introduced antigen testing to quickly identify Covid-19 patients as infections are again on the rise worldwide.
Bangladesh is still relying upon the RT-PCR test to detect Covid-19 patients. On an average, 13,000 to 15,000 samples are being tested in 112 RT-PCR labs across the country.
Experts have long been suggesting more than 20,000 tests per day. Antigen tests have been approved to increase the scope of the test. But the desired result is not coming.
On 5 December, Health Minister Zahid Maleque, speaking at the inaugural programme of antigen testing, said, "Covid-19 cases and deaths are on the rise so it is necessary to identify and treat Covid-19 through antigen tests.
"We have started antigen testing in the districts where there is no PCR lab."