Bijon Kumar Sil
Bijon Kumar SilCollected photo
Bijon Kumar Sil has come to the limelight since he invented a low-cost testing kit for novel coronavirus COVID-19. He invented this at the Gonoshasthaya Kendra laboratory. Earlier in 1999, he had invented PPR vaccines to prevent a goat epidemic. He also invented a fast method to detect SARS virus in 2003.

The whole world has been hit with the outbreak of novel coronavirus. Scientists are working hard to invent testing kits that are easily accessible for people while also working on vaccines. Bangladeshi microbiologist Bijon Kumar Sil is one of these toiling scientists.

Bijon led a team that succeeded in inventing a testing kit for coronavirus. The kits are low-cost and have already availed government approval. The local production will start this week once the necessary components arrive from abroad.

Speaking to this correspondent over phone on 24 March, Bijon Kumar Sil said, “We had started the work last January. It was still uncertain whether coronavirus would break out in Bangladesh too.”

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He said several factors including the difficulty in importing testing kits and their availability motivated him to go for local production.

In 2003, Bijon had worked with the environment and water resource ministry of Singapore during SARS virus outbreak. He was among the scientists who invented the SARS detection kit. He learnt that the virus could be detected from a patient’s antibody count.

“We were assigned to produce the SARS virus detection kit. Three or four of us did that fast. It was SARS coronavirus-1. The one spreading now in an epidemic form is like that one, named SARS coronavirus-2. This novel coronavirus has 82 per cent similarity with the SARS coronavirus-1. As people already have a panic over SARS virus, the newly emerged one is being called COVID-19 to ease the fear,” he said.

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The receptors of SARS and novel coronavirus for human body are the same. Due to his experience, professor Bijon Kumar who is head of Gono Bishwabidyalay microbiology department, invented the kit with his team. The team includes Firoz Ahmed, head of microbiology department at Noakhali Science and Technology University’s; Nihad Adnan, associate professor of microbiology department at Jahangirnagar University; Mohammad Rashed Jamir Uddin, associate professor of microbiology department at BRAC University, and icddr,b scientist Ahsanul Haque. Gonoshasthaya Samaj Vittik Medical College vice principal Mohibulla Khandakar coordinates the programme.

While an imported medical kit would cost 4,000-5,000 taka, the Gonoshasthaya kit will cost 250-300 taka. “Our Gonoshasthaya Kendra chairman Zafrullah Chowdhury wants to provide the kits to the local hospitals on the lowest cost possible,” he said. “We’ll stay round the clock at the lab and produce as much as we can when the components are imported. We hope they arrive 30 or 31 March.”

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The kit is called Gonoshasthaya Rapid Dot Blot (G Rapid Dot Blot) and would take 15 minutes to give results after the blood test.

Bijon comes from Natore. His father was a farmer. “I had worked with my father in the fields for long,” he said. He was born in Bonpara village in Boraigram upazila of the district in 1961. Born to Rasik Chandra Sil and Kiranmoyi Sil, he was fifth among his siblings. He studied at Saint Joseph’s High School in Bonpara and Pabna Government Edward College. He secured first position while graduating in veterinary sciences from Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh. At the same university, he did his post-graduation in microbiology. He went to Britain on a Commonwealth scholarship and obtained his PhD from University of Surrey in 1992.

The researcher studied development of monoclonal antibodies. He has 14 patents dealing with microbiology. So far, more than 20 of his research papers have been published. He presented his research papers at more than 20 international conferences.

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Earlier in 1999, Bijon Kumar Sil invented PPR vaccines to prevent the goat epidemic. He worked at the Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI) then. He also worked on dengue fever. “In 2000, after the first dengue patient was found in the country, I along with professor Nazrul Islam and Munira Parvin worked on dengue at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Medical University.”

Bijon Kumar went to Singapore in 2002 and worked as a government service holder. Later, he worked with a private institution and also became involved with local and international institutions and organisations as a consultant. On 1 February, he joined in the microbiology department of Gono Bishwabidyala in Savar.

Bijon’s profession includes fighting against germs on a regular basis. His inventions are directly associated with public life. “I want to continue my research for the people’s welfare,” he says.

*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo's print edition, has been rewritten here in English by Nusrat Nowrin.