The government is set to launch antigen-based Covid-19 rapid testing in 36 districts which don’t have RT-PCR testing facilities, officials of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.
For this, the DGHS has procured about 2 lakh rapid testing kits from two companies — Abbott GmbH & Co of Germany and SD Biosensor of South Korea.
Speaking to The Daily Star on Tuesday, DGHS Director General Prof ABM Khurshid Alam said, “Hopefully, we will receive the kits within a few days and we will start rapid antigen testing in at least 36 districts this week.”
Dr Habibur Rahman, spokesperson for the DGHS, said the use of antigen kits would be started soon. He, however, couldn’t give any specific date.
Officials said both the kits are WHO prequalified and they have also met the standard set by the DGHS.
They could not confirm the cost of each antigen test.
Each antigen kit developed by SD Biosensor will cost Tk 700-800 if procured in bulks, according to a health ministry document obtained by this newspaper.
Earlier last week, officials at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) said they were validating antigen-based rapid testing kits of several companies, including those mentioned above.
Apart from the two companies, the government will also procure more kits through the World Bank and the Unicef, said DGHS officials.
On September 17, the government permitted antigen-based rapid testing at the public healthcare centres after months of bureaucratic tangles.
The decision is yet to come into force.
Initially, the government has planned to introduce antigen testing facilities at 10 specialised and 39 district hospitals, including those designated to treat Covid-19 cases, across the country. These healthcare installations do not have coronavirus testing facilities.
Private hospitals have not been allowed to use antigen-based rapid testing yet.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has delayed the supply of 10 lakh antigen kits to Bangladesh.
On September 28, the WHO announced that 120 million antigen rapid diagnostic kits for Covid-19 would be made available to low- and middle-income countries under an agreement between manufacturers Abbott and SD Biosensor and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“They said they will give us kits within a week. Now they are saying they will need more time. They will give 10 lakh kits. If we get those, we will not need to go for procurement,” Prof Khurshid said.
The antigen-based rapid testing is a molecular test, an alternative to the sophisticated RT-PCR test, which detects the presence of the novel coronavirus.
The antigen test involves taking a saliva sample and it can usually determine whether a person is infected within 15-30 minutes.
An RT-PCR test now costs the government Tk 3,500 to Tk 4,000, said DGHS officials.