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19 March, 2020 01:06:24 AM

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Lone coronavirus test centre causes problem

Faisal Mahmud and Mubtasim Fuad, Dhaka
Lone coronavirus test centre causes problem

Although a number of private hospitals have the facilities to test coronavirus-infected patients, the government is restricting the testing provision to only one medical facility—the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).

With more and more COVID-19 patients being diagnosed in the country, questions are being raised over the centralisation of testing facilities at a single institution, especially as this has sparked panic and unrest among the masses.

Many people are turning to social media to post about their experiences of not getting any treatment, as hospital staff and even doctors deem it unsafe to treat or admit patients with symptoms of common cold and pneumonia. These symptoms are similar to those observed in patients infected by COVID-19.

One such Facebook post by Nurun Nahar Nowshin went viral on social media.

Nowshin revealed that she made the rounds of several hospitals in the capital but could not get any treatment for her pneumonia-affected father. The hospitals refused to treat him and asked Nowshin to get her father tested at IEDCR first. When contacted, the IEDCR initially refused to treat her father as he had not returned to Bangladesh from any coronavirus-affected countries, nor had he been in recent contact with anyone from such a country.

After several requests, the IEDCR eventually tested Nowshin’s father. But he passed away before the result arrived. The incident was not a sporadic one. People with symptoms of common cold and pneumonia are finding it difficult to get treated at hospitals and clinics as they are being asked to get tested for the coronavirus at the IEDCR first.

However, when these people call the IEDCR hotline, they are refused a coronavirus test if they have not recently returned  from a coronavirus-infected country or have not been in close contact with someone who has returned from an affected country. A report published in Daily Prothom Alo on Tuesday said that the IEDCR has only 1,732 testing kits. So far, the IEDCR has tested samples from only 268 patients and identified a total of 14 persons with the coronavirus.

“The preparation by the government is not adequate. Why don’t they bring more kits and test more patients?” questioned Asraf-Ul-Jubair, a vexed resident from Dhaka’s Moghbazar who recently called the IEDCR. He had symptoms of heavy cold and a fever, but was denied the coronavirus test as he did not meet the IEDCR criteria. “It’s hard to believe that only 14 persons are infected with the coronavirus in Bangladesh. If they don’t test more people, then they will not be able to find more cases,” Jubair said.

South Korean authorities have been relatively successful in curbing the spread of the coronavirus. They have been testing thousands of people for infections and tracking potential carriers like detectives by using mobile phone and satellite technology. Many countries are allowing private hospitals to run coronavirus tests, including Pakistan, India, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK). The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already praised Pakistan’s measures to tackle the coronavirus.

The health ministry in Spain announced Monday that it would place all private healthcare providers and their facilities under public control as the coronavirus continued to spread across the country. The UK’s National Health Service is to join forces with the private healthcare sector this week in an emergency plan to combat the situation. There is growing fear there that public hospitals will soon be overwhelmed with the number of patients. Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that India would soon allow state-authorised private laboratories to conduct tests.

In Bangladesh, although some government and private hospitals have been directed to open isolation units, most have not complied with the order. Some hospitals said they were interested in conducting the tests but had not been given permission yet.

Speaking with The Independent, Dr Monira Parveen, associate professor of the virology department of Dhaka Medical College (DMC), said that they had the facility to test for the coronavirus. “The problem is that testing for the coronavirus is not like testing for some other viruses. We need personal protection equipment and special test kits. As of this moment, we don’t have that,” she added.

Parveen also said doctors in the hospital are in highly vulnerable positions because patients with symptoms similar to the coronavirus have been visiting them over the past few days. “We are in a tough situation here. We refer many patients to get tested at the IEDCR as we don’t have the facilities to test coronavirus-affected patients here,” she added. IEDCR officials said that the detection of virus is a complex process that requires strict quality control. Most public and private hospitals in the country do not have the trained manpower and technological capacity to diagnose the virus, according to health experts.

When a suspected patient is admitted to a hospital outside the capital, the authorities have to report this to the IEDCR. An IEDCR team will then visit the hospital to collect samples from the patient. “We take nasal and throat swab samples from the patient. As this requires special skills, we are sending sample collectors from Dhaka who are experienced in collecting respiratory samples,” Dr ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer of IEDCR, said.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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