The Financial Express

Volunteers help expand COVID-19 testing across Bangladesh

| Updated: May 24, 2020 11:59:05

Volunteers help expand COVID-19 testing across Bangladesh

Ever since the first cases of the coronavirus were reported in Bangladesh, experts have stressed the need to expand the country's testing capacity in order to gauge the scope of the outbreak and formulate effective steps to mitigate its impact on public health, bdnews24.com reports.

At the same time, discussions also centred on the lack of trained professionals to test samples for COVID-19, highlighting how unprepared the country was initially to deal with the impending crisis.

Tests for the coronavirus infection only started being conducted outside Dhaka two and a half months after the first COVID-19 patient was detected in the country. The process was made easier by the relentless efforts of a group of volunteer researchers who identified themselves as biologists.

The team is constantly visiting different parts of the country to set up testing laboratories. From collecting samples of suspected COVID-19 cases to using kits and determining the results, the volunteers are taking a hands-on approach to teaching doctors and medical technologists everything the testing process entails.

After the spread of the coronavirus infection across the country, the health directorate decided to increase the number of COVID-19 testing laboratories. Sample test kits (RT-PCRs) are now being installed in different medical colleges across the country. The kits are supplied and installed by a private company.

The team of biologists, who have been instrumental in keeping RT-PCRs operational from the beginning of the crisis, is being led by ASM Shamim, general secretary of the Graduate Biochemists Association, Habibul Bari Shozib, senior scientific officer of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Richard Malo, a post-doctoral fellow of Dhaka University Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Noorjahan Maliha of Dhaka University Department of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, and Sabrina Moriom Elias, assistant professor of Independent University, Bangladesh.

The volunteers are working to introduce the RT-PCR kits in Dhaka, Faridpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Mugda Medical College, Sir Salimullah Medical College Hospital, Kumirtola General Hospital, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre, according to ASM Shamim.

They are presently focussing their attention on Kushtia Medical College Hospital, Cumilla Medical College, a 300-bed hospital in Narayanganj and Sirajganj M Monsur Ali Medical College Hospital.

The RT-PCR machines are being installed in the microbiology departments of different hospitals, Shamim told the news agency. After its placement, sample tests are carried out by physicians, microbiologists and medical technologists.

“Sample testing for the coronavirus is a bit complicated because it is a new process, especially for those who do not work full-time in the laboratory. This is where trained people are needed.”

"The COVID-19 test depends on a lot of things. You have to collect samples first. Then comes sample processing. Afterwards, the processed samples have to be run through an RT-PCR machine. Physicians, supporting staff and technologists are given training on generating test results.”

The start of the journey was not very smooth, according to Shozib. The volunteers wanted to use their experiences during the crisis and had contacted the health directorate regarding the matter. But they did not receive any positive feedback.

The team later contacted an overseas marketing company, which supplies RT-PCR machines, through a colleague.

Ashraful Alam, chairman of the microbiology department at Faridpur Medical College, said the laboratory would not have been possible without the help of biologists.

Their efforts have also drawn praise from DGHS Additional Director General Nasima Sultana.

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