Bangladesh has designated three laboratories for testing monkeypox samples, according to a draft plan of the health directorate which awaits approval.
All the three labs – National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre, Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) and Institute of Public Health – are in Dhaka.
If monkeypox cases surge, according to the draft preparedness and response plan, samples will be tested in the divisional headquarters.
On 22 July, the health directorate issued an alert at the port of entries over the global monkeypox outbreak. On the next day, the disease was declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) – the strongest call to action the agency can make.
Bangladesh is yet to detect a maiden monkeypox case. Only the IEDCR is now conducting the tests, as the medical facility alone has the testing reagents.
"We are testing the suspected cases at the port of entries, and allowing them to leave only after the negative confirmation," Prof Dr Nazmul Islam, director (Disease Control) at the health directorate, told The Business Standard.
The global case count is now over 25,000, with more than 6,000 in the US. At least 80 countries including neighbouring India have reported monkeypox cases, as the global death toll is now at least 10.
Prof Dr Nazmul said the total suspected cases they have screened so far at the port of entries are yet to reach the double digit.
"We want to get things ready beforehand so that we do not get caught by the global outbreak unprepared. For viral diseases like this, there are no alternatives to precaution," said Prof Nazmul, adding they have selected the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Dhaka's Mohakhali to treat monkeypox patients.
Dr Arifa Akram, head of virology department at the National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre, told TBS that the health directorate held a meeting on Thursday on the action plan on monkeypox.
Apart from the port of entry, she said the designated labs will collect samples from medical facilities across the country.
Monkeypox typically manifests itself with fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes and may lead to a range of medical complications. It is usually a self-limited disease with symptoms lasting for two to four weeks.
According to WHO, 98% of the monkeypox cases detected since the outbreaks emerged in May had been among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
"Dealing with the disease will be challenging as sexual orientation is a sensitive topic and homosexuality is not legal in Bangladesh," said Dr M Mushtuq Husain, adviser to the IEDCR.
Calling upon not to stigmatise the disease, rather to emphasise the risk of communication, he said anyone can catch it.
The public health expert recommended maintaining personal hygiene and social distancing.