Barishal division's only RT-PCR lab, set up at Sher-e-Bangla Medical College, is struggling to examine samples, as the demand for Covid-19 tests rises.
Inaugurated in February, the lab with no virologist has only one RT-PCR machine and 11 technologists, and is testing only about half the samples collected in the division per day.
Dr AKM Akbar Kabir, in-charge of the lab and assistant professor of SBMC's microbiology department, told this correspondent that the RT-PCR machine can test 94 samples per shift.
"Currently, we can test 234 samples per day running three shifts. So far, we tested a total of 10,500 samples," he said on Sunday.
"The number of tests is increasing daily. Our technologists are working day and night. They can't even stay in quarantine. We need more trained technologists including a virologist," said the in-charge.
Dr Basudeb Kumar Das, director, Barishal divisional health office, said only 44 out of 102 technologist's posts in the division are filled, creating a crisis.
"We are collecting about 400 samples from the entire division every day and sending 200 to Dhaka and the rest to the PCR Lab in Barishal," he said.
The demand for tests has increased, exceeding the capacity of the PCR lab and thus creating pressure, Dr Basudeb added.
Another PCR lab would be started in the division's Bhola district soon, which would solve the testing crisis, he hoped.
Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) is one of the most accurate laboratory methods for coronavirus testing.
While no private organisation collects samples in Barishal division, which is comprised of six districts, many upazila health complexes also fail to do the task due to lack of trained sample collectors, said sources at the divisional health office.
Last week, a man from Mehendiganj upazila had to stay four days at a hotel in Barishal city to give his samples at SBMCH.
"It is six hours to and from Mehendiganj by launch. I cannot travel every day and wait in long queues for three hours, so I stayed at a hotel," said the 36-year-old man, who could not get his test done at Mehendiganj.
Unlike him, a 48-year-old government employee of Barishal city's Kawnia area, gave up hope of getting tested after trying for three days.
He is now taking treatment for coronavirus symptoms at home using the telemedicine service, the government employee said, wishing anonymity.
Visiting SBMCH's coronavirus unit on Thursday around 11:30am, this correspondent saw some 25 people returning home after failing to provide their sample for Covid-19 tests.
Even a week ago SBMCH could collect about 50 samples -- between 9:00am to noon -- per day from out-patients.
But now the out-patients' sample collection has dropped to around 25, said Dr Moniruzzaman Shahin, in-charge of SBMCH's coronavirus unit.
He said they first collect samples from patients already admitted at the hospital, then from SBMCH health workers, and finally from out-patients.
In the last one week, the average number of patients admitted at SBMCH has increased from 30 to more than 100. Thus, they reduced collections from out-patients, he noted.
Residential Medical Officer Dr Delowar Hossain of Barisal General Hospital said that last week, the Barishal divisional health office directed them not to send more than 20 to 22 samples per day for coronavirus testing.
Barishal City Corporation also stopped its door-to-door sample collection after running it for a month because two of its sample collectors tested Covid-19 positive, said Dr Matiur Rahman, chief health officer of BCC.
Dr Manisha Chakraborty, member secretary of Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (BSD), Barisal unit, said, "There is only one PCR lab for one core people in Barisal division. Thus, people are not able to get test reports on time. There is no coordination between those responsible for healthcare."
The leftist party also alleges that there is a shortage of testing kits, which was denied by the in-charge of the RT-PCR lab.
It takes about two to 12 days to get Covid-19 test results depending on whether the sample was taken in a public hospital in Barishal city or at a upazila health complex.