Although the government is trying to enhance testing facilities amid the rising cases of coronavirus, experts said the shortage of kit supply is continuing to hamper the efforts.
They said the daily sample collection and corona tests are still inadequate despite significate increase in the number of RT-PCR laboratories. There is also a lack of skilled and necessary medical technologists and logistics.
Coronavirus testing remained stopped at several labs while some laboratories are forced to limit the testing due to kit and manpower crisis, leading to backlogs in testing.
The number of laboratories has been extended to 67, but only 15,157 samples were tested across the country on Friday while nine labs did not perform any test.
However, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) claimed they have sufficient kits and they are trying to increase the stock by removing complexities in importing the device.
An official at the Health Ministry said the import of coronavirus testing kits has been disrupted over the last 10 days for shortage of money.
He said the Finance Ministry is not releasing required money from the fund allocated to face the coronavirus situation, putting the Central Medical Stores Depot (CMSD) in trouble to clear the overdue bills of the importers.
“Some firms provided kits in several phases, but the CMSD couldn’t provide them any money. So, most firms have stopped importing kits and place new orders for lack of money,” the official said.
He said around 800,000 testing kits were imported in the last three months, but the stock is exhausting fast. “So, labs were asked to slow down the tests while supply of kits for some labs remained suspended.”
The official said the health ministry and DGHS are working to resolve the problem and prepare a standard operating procedure and enhance kit stock in July.
Contacted, Prof Dr Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the DGHS, said there is no shortage of kits and they are providing the laboratories with the required number of kits.
Asked the reason behind the suspension of tests at nine laboratories on Friday, she said this not for lack of kit supply, but for some other reasons.
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As her attention was drawn to the fund crisis over procuring kits, she said they have continued the process to import more kits and increase the stock. “The difficulties over importing kits will be over at the end of the current month and we’ll store sufficient kits in the coming month.”
Prof Dr Sultana Shahana Banu, head of the virology department of the Dhaka Medical College (DMC), said there is a shortage of kit in the country like other countries in the world.
“We’ve been using from the very beginning the testing kit of Sansure Biotech, imported from China. But the stock of the kits is getting depleted due to problem in supply chain. Now many laboratories are being given European kit. At DMCH we’re still using the Sansure kit,” she said.
She said Sansure kits are very simple and less time consuming for performing coronavirus tests and medical technologists have become used to using the kit. “It takes much time to conduct tests with the European kits than the Sansure ones. So, the testing rate is supposed to fall when the European kits will be given to the laboratories.”
As the government is trying to increase the testing capacity, the virologist said sufficient kits stock should be ensured. “We need to diversify our kit import sources to keep the testing activities unhindered.”
Prof Shahana said the laboratories designated for the coronavirus tests are facing problems at every step -- from collecting samples to testing -- due to shortage of adequate and skilled manpower and relevant logistics.
“We’ve to collect more samples than we can test every day to cope with the pressure of patients. First of all, we don’t have enough manpower to smoothly collect these samples. Secondly, we need to store the collected samples in -80 degrees Celsius. But we don’t have such a sophisticated refrigerator for properly preserving the samples. That’s why the quality of samples can degrade sometimes which can affect the results of tests.”
Former World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Advisor Muzaherul Huq said kit shortage has been created due to the mismanagement and poor planning of the DGHS.
“The DGHS should have a plan for ensuring good stock of the kits based on projection. They must have a plan about how many tests they will conduct in the coming months. As per the plan, they will have to procure kits and stock those,” he observed.
The health expert said the country should not depend on any particular country for the import of the kits. “We should have multiple sources for procuring the kits. Apart from China, Vietnam and South Korea can be good sources for the kit import.”
Muzaherul Huq said the government should expand the corona testing facilities to all the districts as soon as possible to get rid of the virus. “Antibody tests should also be introduced to know the real corona situation in the country.”