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Bangladesh scientists create $3 kit. Can it help detect COVID-19?

Dhaka, Bangladesh – A group of scientists in Bangladesh has developed a $3 testing kit they claim can detect coronavirus in less than 15 minutes. The South Asian nation’s pharmaceutical regulator – the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) – gave its green light for the mass production of the kit last Thursday, saying it…

Bangladesh scientists create $3 kit. Can it help detect COVID-19?

Dhaka, Bangladesh – A group of scientists in Bangladesh has developed a $3 testing kit they claim can detect coronavirus in less than 15 minutes.
The South Asian nation’s pharmaceutical regulator – the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) – gave its green light for the mass production of the kit last Thursday, saying it would ease the pressure on the pathology services struggling with coronavirus detection.
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Bangladesh’s largest vernacular daily Prothom Alo reported last week that only 1,732 testing kits are available in a country of nearly 180 million people.
Besides, according to a report of The Business Standard, the Bangladesh government has so far prepared only 29 intensive care unit (ICU) beds for COVID-19 patients in five Dhaka hospitals. 
Most private hospitals that have ICU facilities are refusing to admit patients with even mild symptoms amid the COVID-19 scare.
Similar kit developed in China
The kit developed by Bangladesh’s Gonoshasthaya-RNA Biotech Limited is similar to one developed in January by scientists in China as the coronavirus outbreak intensified in the Chinese province of Hubei.
A report by The Guardian said the Australian regulatory authority “urgently approved four Australian companies” to import the testing kit developed by the Chinese scientists after those companies sought to supply it into the Australian market.

Bangladesh is already struggling with coronavirus testing, with reportedly only 1,732 testing kits are available in a country of nearly 180 million people [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Some experts say that because the kit looks for antibodies produced by the white blood cells in response to the virus rather than the virus itself, there is a margin of error where it could return a false negative if used at the wrong time.
The standard laboratory test for coronavirus is known as reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which detects the virus’s genome rather than antibodies produced to fight it.
Dr Bijon Kumar Sil, leader of the Bangladeshi research team that invented the kit, told Al Jazeera that their test, known as the ‘dot blot test’, looks for antibodies in the blood that are created in response to a given virus.
“Coronavirus or any types of virus enter the body through the nose, mouth or eyes, then attaches to cells in the throat that produce a protein,” said Sil.
He said viruses are made up of an outer shell of protein, which carries the virus’s DNA or RNA – the genetic code with the instructions for making new copies of the virus.
‘It’s cheap to produce’
The infected cell reads the RNA and begins making proteins which eventually multiplies the virus, said Sil.
“But as the infection progresses inside the human cell, the human immune system at one stage produces specific antibody in blood to fight against the specific virus,” he said.
“Antibodies are one of the key weapons against viruses in our immune system’s arsenal,” he said.
“Our dot blot test detects the specific antibody in the blood created by the white blood cell in response to coronavirus,” he said adding that the antibody assays use blood serum, saliva and sputum samples to provide the results within few minutes.
Dr Sil invented a similar kit for detecting the SARS coronavirus while working in Singapore during the outbreak of the respiratory disease in 2003. The Chinese government later bought the patent of the kit he developed as it was proven to be effective in detecting the SARS coronavirus “in most cases”.
“The best part of this rapid kit is it’s cheap (approximately $3) to produce unlike the RT-PCR testing kit which one is expensive,” he said.
An RT-PCR kit costs about $120 to $130. A specialised biosafety lab is also needed to house a PCR machine, each of which may cost $15,000 to $90,000, Dr Mohibullah Khondoker, a member of Dr Sil’s research team said.
Khondoker said only a few pathological laboratories in Bangladesh has the desired biosafety level to conduct RT-PCR tests, “whereas our rapid dot blot test can be conducted by most of the laboratories”.
Limitations of the dot-blot kit
Dr Md Shajedur Rahman Shawon, researcher at Centre for Big Data Research in Health, University of New South Wales in Australia, however, said ‘dot blot test’ has its disadvantages.
Shawon said the rapid kit looks for antibodies in the blood produced in response to infection by coronavirus, whereas the RT-PCR looks for the virus itself (through RNA extraction) in respiratory specimens.
“Since the rapid test relies on the presence of a sufficient amount of antibodies in the blood, factors like timing of the test, previous infections, immune status of a person, cross-reaction with other antigens, can produce false results,” he said.

Most private hospitals that have ICU facilities are declining to admit patients even with mild symptoms amid COVID-19 scare [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

The Australia-based researcher said the false results could take two forms: false-negative and false-positive.
The false-negative results will tell a person who is actually infected with coronavirus that they are not, which could lead to them spreading it further because they do not think they need to take precautions.
On the other hand, a false-positive result tells a person that they are infected when, in fact, they are not. This might be less dangerous than false-negatives in the case of a highly contagious virus-like coronavirus, said Dr Shawon.
“Several labs around the world are trying to develop such a rapid kit, but none has received approval from public health authorities because of lack of reliability and validity of these kits,” he said.
“While rapid kits can be used as a screening tool, their efficacy in detecting true-positive and true-negative cases need to be assessed before any approval by the regulator can be made,” he added. 
A better option in current situation
When asked about the supposed disadvantages of the test kit, Dr Sil said, “The rapid dot blot test could record false-negative if used at a wrong time.”
“Sometimes, it takes more than three days to develop antibodies in the blood cell, so if a test is conducted before three days, then it might come as false-negative,” he said.
“Under normal circumstances, RT-PCR is the only ‘gold standard’ test for detecting coronavirus, but the current situation is anything but normal. Here, a rapid dot blot test can be given a shot as countries like Bangladesh are suffering from acute coronavirus test kit crisis,” he added.
Dr Khondorker told Al Jazeera that Bangladesh has one of the most fragile healthcare systems in the world.
“There is no health insurance facility for most of the people, and people can’t afford even basic healthcare. So when we developed our kit, we kept the cost in mind and tried to make it as cheap as possible,” he said.
Khondoker added that they are working day and night to increase the efficiency of the test kit.
“You understand this is no less than a war-like situation now. There are possibilities of witnessing a boom of coronavirus-affected patients in the next few weeks. It is impossible to test them all with methods like RT-PCR as that method is not only expensive but also time-consuming,” he said.
“But our method gives result within 15 minutes and, at present, I would say it works in 90 percent of cases.”
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Many killed in Bangladesh mosque gas pipeline blast |NationalTribune.com

Relatives of a suspected gas explosion victim mourn in a hospital in Dhaka [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP] A gas pipeline explosion near a mosque in Bangladesh killed 13 people and injured 30 as worshippers were about to end their prayers, officials said on Saturday. The explosion, which fire service officials suspect was caused by leakage from…

Many killed in Bangladesh mosque gas pipeline blast |NationalTribune.com

Relatives of a suspected gas explosion victim mourn in a hospital in Dhaka [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]
A gas pipeline explosion near a mosque in Bangladesh killed 13 people and injured 30 as worshippers were about to end their prayers, officials said on Saturday.
The explosion, which fire service officials suspect was caused by leakage from the pipeline, occurred on Friday night at a mosque in Narayanganj district, just outside the capital, Dhaka.
Dozens were rushed to Dhaka’s state-run specialised burn and plastic-surgery hospital, most of them with severe burns.
Thirteen people, including a seven-year-old child, died after they sustained burns, said Samanta Lal Sen, coordinator of the burns unit.
The death toll could rise further as many of them were in a critical condition, he said.
Fire officials said gas that accumulated in the mosque after pipeline leaks likely triggered the blasts.
“We primarily suspect that gas leaked from the pipeline and accumulated inside the mosque since the windows were shut. When the air conditioners was turned on, due to sparks the gas could have exploded,” said Abdullah Al Arefin, a senior fire service official.
All six air conditioners in the mosque exploded during the incident, he said.
Authorities have launched an investigation into the blast.
In Bangladesh, safety regulations are often flouted in construction. Hundreds are killed each year in fires in the nation of 168 million people.
In February last year, an inferno in Dhaka’s old quarters killed 78 people. One month later, 25 people were killed when a blaze engulfed an office building in the city.

Bangladesh: Office building fire kills 25 people in Dhaka

SOURCE:
News agencies

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Bangladesh using controversial law to ‘gag media, free speech’ |NationalTribune.com

Dhaka, Bangladesh – At least 20 journalists in Bangladesh have been charged or arrested under the controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) in the past month, raising concerns about free speech in the South Asian nation. A number of journalists have been arrested for social media posts critical of the government or reporting on the government’s…

Bangladesh using controversial law to ‘gag media, free speech’ |NationalTribune.com

Dhaka, Bangladesh – At least 20 journalists in Bangladesh have been charged or arrested under the controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) in the past month, raising concerns about free speech in the South Asian nation.
A number of journalists have been arrested for social media posts critical of the government or reporting on the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Nearly 60 cases have been filed against more than 100 people, including 22 journalists, under the DSA this year until May 6, according to a study by Article 19, a UK-based human rights body.
Senior journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol disappeared on March 10, a day after a politician from the governing Awami League party filed a criminal defamation case against him for publishing “false, offensive, illegally obtained and defamatory” content on Facebook.
A governing party legislator, Saifuzzaman Shikor, filed a defamation case against Kajol, a photographer and editor of the biweekly Pakkhakal magazine, and 31 others, accusing them of linking him to escort services run from a hotel.
Kajol mysteriously turned up in police custody 53 days later on India-Bangladesh border.

Monorom Polok, Kajol’s son, has pleaded for his father’s release [STR/AFP]

He has been slapped with three cases under the DSA, a law rights bodies have described as “draconian”. Police have registered a fourth case against Kajol for “trespassing” into his own country. 
If punished, he faces seven years in jail.
Another top editor, Motiur Rahman Chowdhury, was also charged in the same case.
‘A prisoner of conscience’
Amnesty International said Kajol was detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression. “Shafiqul Islam Kajol is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” the rights body said in a statement released on May 6.
Monorom Polok, Kajol’s son, has pleaded for his father’s release. “My father still hasn’t got the chance to appeal in front of a court as the courts are now shut due to COVID -19 lockdown,” Polok told Al Jazeera.
“Out of humanity and out of kindness, we appeal to our government to consider my father’s pr-existing health conditions and his mental state and immediately release him and drop all charges against him,” he said.
Journalists filing reports critical of the government’s measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus also seemed to have been targeted.
On May 6, at least 11 people, including a cartoonist, two journalists, and a writer, were charged with “spreading rumors and carrying out anti-government activities”.
Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil, US-based journalist Shahed Alam and blogger Asif Mohiuddin also have cases against them under DSA.
On the same day, Didarul Islam Bhuiyan, a member of a politico-civic organization, Rashtrachinta, was arrested for a Facebook post.
“My husband was not involved in any criminal acts, but he was picked up by plain-clothes people who identified themselves as members of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB),” Dilshan Ara, wife of Bhuiyan, told Al Jazeera.
“He is innocent, who merely posted some write-ups on social media criticising the corruption in the relief distribution process; we all have that right to expression under the constitution.
“We want his immediate release, he may get exposed to coronavirus inside the jail.”
Police defend action
Police officials have defended the cases against journalists.
Masudur Rahman, Dhaka Metro Police deputy commissioner media, told Al Jazeera that cases filed on May 6 against 11 people, including journalists, and Bhuiyan were filed by paramilitary RAB for social media postings.
He affirmed that the police would investigate the matter in accordance with the law. “However, it will be up to the court to decide their fate in the end. All of them have been sent to Keranigonj central jail, pending a court hearing,” Rahman told Al Jazeera.
Rights activists have expressed grave concern over the rising number of cases being filed against journalists and critics of the government. They say the DSA law is being used to “gag media and freedom of expression”.
“We are alarmed by nature and procedure followed by authorities to prosecute people in some of the cases under The Digital Security Act (DSA),” Saad Hammadi, South Asia campaigner for Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera.
“When a police official’s justification for taking a DSA case against someone is based on only the fact that a ruling party leader is aggrieved as opposed to determining the necessity and proportion of the actions, it severely compromises the country’s commitment to promote and protect people’s right to freedom of expression,” he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Bangladesh to urgently revise the DSA to ensure that it is in line with international human rights laws.
Rising cases against journalists
More than 1,000 cases have been filed in Bangladesh under the DSA since it was implemented in 2018.
In the last two months, journalists have become more vulnerable, with many media outlets announcing lay-offs due to COVID-19 pandemic that has infected 25,121 and killed 370 people in the country of 160 million.
A group of eminent citizens and journalists unions have called for the release of jailed media workers.
“Digital Security Act can be useful against those who commit cybercrimes, but it should not be used against journalists and media persons,” Farida Yeasmin, general secretary of the Bangladesh National Press Club, told Al Jazeera.
The Bangladesh Editors’ Council (Sampadak Parishad) has also expressed grave concern over the recent cases against journalists.
“No concern is being shown over the merit of the complaints before making arrests,” the Editors’ Council said in a statement.
Last month, Reporters Without Borders published a report that at least nine journalists had been physically attacked and six face charges under the DSA for collecting or publishing news on misappropriation of relief materials.
The Paris-based media watchdog ranks Bangladesh 150 out of 180 countries in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, a four-point drop from its 2018 ranking.
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Bangladesh, India brace for Amphan

India and Bangladesh evacuated millions of people from the path of the most powerful storm in 20 years, which is expected to hit on Wednesday evening and has raised fears of extensive damage to houses and crops. The authorities’ move to save lives was complicated by continuing efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic and enforce…

Bangladesh, India brace for Amphan

India and Bangladesh evacuated millions of people from the path of the most powerful storm in 20 years, which is expected to hit on Wednesday evening and has raised fears of extensive damage to houses and crops.
The authorities’ move to save lives was complicated by continuing efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic and enforce social distancing.
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Approaching from the Bay of Bengal, super cyclone Amphan was expected to hit the coast of eastern India and southern Bangladesh with winds gusting up to 185 kilometres per hour (115 miles per hour) – the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, said the cyclone was expected to land on South Asian nation’s southeastern coastal belt at around 6pm local time.
He said 1.4 million people have been evacuated and put into shelter but at least 46,000 people remained in the clear line of danger on some of the islands in the coastal areas.
“There is accommodation for at least five million people and there is medical team, rescue operation team, coastguard and the navy have been put on alert and standby in the coastal areas,” he said. 
“This would be one of the biggest cyclones so they are taking it very seriously.”

The Indian weather department forecast a storm surge of 10- to 16-foot (3-4 metre) waves – as high as a two-storey house – that could swamp mud dwellings along the coast, uproot communication towers and inundate roads and railway tracks.
There will be extensive damage to standing crops and plantations in the states of West Bengal and Odisha, the weather service said in a bulletin late on Tuesday.
Authorities were hastily repurposing quarantine facilities for the looming cyclone soon after easing the world’s biggest lockdown against the coronavirus. India has reported more than 100,000 cases with 3,163 deaths.
About 300,000 people had been moved to storm shelters, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said. The state capital Kolkata lies near the cyclone’s path and there was concern about people living in about 1,500 old, dilapidated buildings.
Kolkata was battered by heavy rain and the muddy Hooghly river was rising under dark skies, while in the coastal resort of Digha, large waves were pounding the shore.

A Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) volunteer uses a megaphone to urge residents to evacuate to shelters ahead of the expected landfall of cyclone Amphan in Khulna, Bangladesh on Tuesday [Kazi Shanto/ AFP]

Rohingya refugees vulnerable
In neighbouring Bangladesh, officials said the cyclone could set off tidal waves and heavy rainfall, unleashing floods.
It was expected to hit land between the districts of Chittagong and Khulna, just 150 km (93 miles) from refugee camps housing more than a million Rohingya in flimsy shelters.
The UN said food, tarpaulins and water purification tablets had been stockpiled, while authorities said the refugees would be moved to sturdier buildings if needed.
“We are fully prepared. But right now, there is no need to take them to cyclone shelters,” said Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner.
Authorities in Bangladesh have also moved hundreds of Rohingya refugees living on a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal to storm shelters as the super cyclone barrels down.
The eastern edge of the storm headed for Bangladesh and neighbouring India is expected to batter Bhasan Char island, where 306 Rohingya, members of a persecuted minority from Myanmar, were sent this month after being rescued from boats.
“Each block has a cyclone centre and they have been moved to the centre,” said Bimal Chakma, a senior official of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission.
The United Nations has called for the refugees to be moved to the mainland to join more than a million more who live in sprawling camps outside the town of Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh’s low-lying coast, home to 30 million people, and India’s east are regularly battered by cyclones that have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in recent decades. The eastern Indian state of Odisha was hit by a super cyclone that left nearly 10,000 dead in 1999, eight years after a typhoon, tornadoes and flooding killed 139,000 in Bangladesh. In 1970, Cyclone Bhola killed half a million.
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