Antibody tests for COVID-19 not in Bangladesh’s plans as it prepares for antigen tests

Approval of antibody tests depends on the efficacy of the antigen tests, says Health Minister Zahid Maleque.

“We’ve just approved the antigen test and the testing has not begun yet. Let it begin and let’s see the efficacy; let’s see what happens,” he told bdnews24.com.

“We’ll think about the antibody tests later. We must be sure that the tests benefit us more first,” he added.

An antigen test is done by collecting samples from the mouth or nose, while the antibody test is carried out by collecting blood samples to see if antibody has developed against the disease.

Both antigen and antibody tests are rapid. The result of an antigen test can be made available in 30 minutes while for an antibody test, it requires a few hours.

Dr Nazrul Islam, former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Shiekh Mujib Medical University, however, suggests launching antibody tests to get an idea about the true scale of the epidemic.

“At least it would confirm that those having the antibodies will not be affected by the pathogen,” the virologist told bdnews24.com.

“We could determine the percentage of people who have no antibodies and so are at risk of contracting the disease. They would understand their risks as well and take precautions.”

The national technical advisory committee on COVID-19 has been recommending introduction of antibody tests since the epidemic reached Bangladesh in March. Dr Nazrul sits on the committee.

Bangladesh currently relies only on RT-PCR tests to diagnose novel coronavirus infection.

More tests would reveal more cases of COVID-19 and therefore, the national advisory committee suggests simultaneously conducting RT-PCR, antigen and antibody tests.

This would play an important role in bridling the spread of coronavirus infection, the committee said in a statement on Sep 17.

“Time has come to work on serosurveillance, and antibody test should begin,” it said

In order to get a clear picture of the COVID-19 situation in Bangladesh, it is important to do the antibody tests, said Mohammod Shahidullah who heads the committee.

It is also required to identify the antibody level in the blood of a donor for plasma therapy, he said.

“Blood from a donor with a high volume of antibodies will bring the best results to plasma therapy. That’s why we want the antibody tests. However, it is not as important as the antigen test,” Shahidullah said.

Antibody test will be needed to determine who gets the COVID-19 vaccine, once it is available in the country, said Dr ABM Khurshid Alam, the director general of health services.

The recommendation from the advisory committee has been sent to the health ministry, said the director general. “We can’t do anything unless it is approved by the ministry. We’re waiting for their directives.”

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