News Desk :
As fears of a second wave of the coronavirus grow around the world, Bangladesh's rate of daily infections has remarkably slowed down over the past two months, ..." /> Logo

Is the epidemic really abating?


News Desk :
As fears of a second wave of the coronavirus grow around the world, Bangladesh's rate of daily infections has remarkably slowed down over the past two months, reports
However, experts cast doubts on whether the purported decline in active cases shown by the government's data, paints the real picture of the coronavirus pandemic in the country while pointing to a decrease in COVID-19 testing.
Those volunteering to take the test are being included in the official figures while asymptomatic patients are left out, while the statistics fail to pinpoint the coronavirus hotspots relative to the population density in parts of the country, they said.
Bangladesh may get caught in a 'long term circle of infections' if the authorities do not ramp up testing to get a clearer understanding of the situation, said Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director of the Directorate General of Health Services.
"The data provided by the government shows the infection rate is trending downwards. But we're not aware of area-based infections and whether it is increasing or decreasing. Antibody tests are never done. An antibody test would reveal the area-based infection rate."
Bangladesh has been solely reliant on the RT-PCR testing system for coronavirus diagnosis until now. It is viewed as the most reliable testing system in the world to detect the novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19.
The RT-PCR system, however, is expensive and takes longer to return results.
The antibody test, on the other hand, is quicker and can identify asymptomatic patients who have recovered already. This will enable the authorities to determine the real extent of the pandemic.
"We're not tracing and then testing people with potential exposure to the pathogen. A COVID-19 test after tracing potential patients would give us the real number of cases," said Be-Nazir.
The government has recently approved the use of the antigen-based rapid tests for COVID-19,   
but they are yet to approve the antibody test.
According to the DGHS, the daily caseload remained between 3,500 and 4,000 from June to July. The numbers hovered between 1,500 and 2,000 in mid-September.
Although more RT-PCR labs have cropped up to conduct COVID-19 testing, the number of tests per day has decreased. Daily tests are down to 11,000-15,000 at present, from 17,000-18,000 in late June and early July.
According to the DGHS, the total number of infections in the country is 353,844 with a death toll of  5,044 as of Sept 23.
Be-Nazir, also an adviser to the World Health Organisation, believes the government's data is skewed by the lack of testing, based on which, people are abandoning caution over the disease. This in turn raises the risk of infection in the country.
"Health protocols should be followed by the people, while the government must ensure proper testing, isolation and quarantine procedures. If these issues are addressed then the infection will not spread as much despite a lack of adherence to health protocols."
Be-Nazir highlighted the need for 'proper management' to combat the pandemic.
"Everyone cannot go into self-quarantine. A person from the lower-income group, who may lose his job for not attending office for a day, will never disclose his symptoms. He'll take medicine and go out, and therefore, spread the pathogen further."
While the government agencies have been talking about controlling the infection, they have not in fact been able to curb the epidemic as they had opted for the 'wrong approach' to tackle the crisis, he added.
 "We believe that we have bridled the spread of the virus, but in reality, we haven't. This is how we're harming ourselves. The other countries are dealing with the issue in a different way. It would have been better if we could drag the number of cases down to zero in two months. But the situation remains the same after six months. Therefore, we're entering a long-term infection cycle. It will become worse if we fail to control it before the winter."
On what the country's present position in combating the pandemic is, six months after reporting its first cases, the epidemiologist replied: "We're in a confusing state. We won't be able to control it if things go on like this. Rather we'll move towards an uncontrolled epidemic."
Experts have been warning about a 'second wave' of the infection in Bangladesh, like elsewhere around the world. The prime minister, too, has warned about the prospect of a surge in COVID-19 cases once winter sets in, ordering the authorities to take necessary precautions.
The National Technical Advisory on COVID-19 posted a public notice in the media with the same warning.
"The first wave of the infection is still not over in the country. Countries like China or other European countries have brought down the number of daily cases to zero, but we couldn't do it in six months. We're calling it wave-imposed, which means, if we can't control it, another wave will spread over the existing wave, but the numbers will not decrease," said Be-Nazir.