The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh has reached over 1.7 lakh. Now is the time to ramp up tests to measure the spread of Covid-19 and identify hotspots in order to contain the virus. However, the rate of testing has significantly dropped recently—on July 2, 18,362 tests were conducted across the country, but now the daily number of tests has dropped to under 15,000. This has been attributed to a shortage of testing kits, especially in Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj, where some centres have been forced to reduce or even suspend testing. Recently, the government took the decision of introducing a fee for testing—according to a government circular, "many people took advantage of it (tests) without even having any symptom."
In this context, it is unacceptable that more than five lakh Covid-19 testing kits have been lying in the warehouses of several companies in the capital for the last couple of months. According to a report in this daily, a number of suppliers have alleged that the Central Medical Store Depot (CMSD), which is responsible for public purchase and distribution of medical equipment, is delaying the approval and delivery of kits. These allegations include the delay of sampling procedures for over a month, although the process is not meant to take more than a day; the cancellation of orders for kits after they have already been imported; and refusal to receive kits even after issuing work orders for them.
What is even more disappointing than this dragging of feet is the statements given by top government officials regarding these baffling delays. The directors of CMSD and the DGHS have both declined to comment, and a spokesperson for the DGHS claimed that there is no testing kit crisis in the country and that 1.88 lakh kits are now at their disposal. If this is the case, why has the number of daily tests been reduced, and why are fees being charged for this abundance of testing kits? If more kits are not needed, why are companies being given work orders, only to have them delayed or even cancelled?
We are in the middle of the worst public health crisis this country has ever seen. Now is not the time to pass on the blame or cover up realities. The WHO has made it very clear that robust testing is one of the main tools for understanding the spread of the pandemic and coming up with relevant policies. We urge the government to immediately cut through this red tape and ensure that imported testing kits reach hospitals and testing centres without further delays.