Isolation wards not fully prepared yet but expected to be operational very soon
Public hospitals, including Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College (ShSMC) Hospital, Dhaka Medical College (DMC) Hospital, Chittagong 250-Bed General Hospital, Chittagong Medical College Hospital and most sadar hospitals of the country, have set up separate flu corners as a preventive measure to ensure treatment of suspected novel coronavirus infected patients, based on a government directive.
A total of 10 people have been tested positive for Covid-19 in Bangladesh till now.
The government also issued a directive to set up isolation units in public hospitals to impede the spread of the virus. However, this reporter, visiting the Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College (ShSMC) Hospital, did not find any isolation ward there.
Nevertheless, ShSMC Assistant Director Mamun Morshed held out the assurance that the hospital authorities were preparing a separate block for their isolation units, which would become operational very soon. The other public hospitals are also preparing such units, soon to be made functional.
For now, ShSMC serves suspected coronavirus patients in the fiber clinic and dengue outdoor section of the hospital.
Hospital officials said they had received an order to set up the flu corner, which had been operational since Sunday.
But healthcare professionals of the country seem ill prepared and too panic-stricken to handle even common ailments against the background of the coronavirus.
Nazma Amin, 24, who recently returned from Canada, was suffering from stomach ache and became a fatal victim of wrong treatment on March 15 as the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) authorities suspected her of being a coronavirus patient and avoided going near her, according to her father.
ShSMC Resident Physician Dr Md Al Amin said the hospital had decided to run the flu corner units to provide treatment instead of going for isolation units at the moment.
"We have already appointed two doctors, nurses, and other health care workers for this purpose," he said.
Isolation wards will be operated by six designated hospitals, which have been earmarked for serving coronavirus affected patients, the doctor added.
The hospitals are: Railway General Hospital at Kamlapur, Mahanagar General Hospital at Nayabazar, Kamrangirchar 31-Bed Hospital, Mirpur Maternity, Aminbazar 20-Bed Hospital, and Jinjira 20-Bed Hospital.
Earlier on January 27, the Health Service Division issued an order to all public hospital authorities across the country to open isolation wards as a precautionary measure against coronavirus.
"We are regularly taking the history of the patients and trying to find if they are showing symptoms of coronavirus infection," said Dr Al Amin.
"If we find patients with such symptoms, we transfer them to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR). We previously identified two such patients who had come from Italy and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are now quarantined under the supervision of IEDCR," he added.
Preparing to face coronavirus spread
ShSMC Medical Officer Dr Arunava Paul said: "We are prepared to tackle the identified symptoms of the infection. But we still do not have protective equipment. We have only received gowns and masks for the doctors."
Dr Al Amin said: "We are just operating the screening process. If anyone suffering from fever, cough, and breathing problems is identified, they will be referred to the six hospitals which have fully prepared isolation units."
"The doctors at those hospitals have the necessary equipment which is badly needed to check coronavirus affected people," he added.
Nevertheless, he expects that essential equipment will be provided soon by the Health Services Division. Moreover, the Health Emergency Operation Centre and Control Room will also cooperate with their flu corner.
"A doctor was assigned to note down patients' history, and if they find anyone with Covid-19 symptoms, we will inform the IEDCR," Dr Al Amin said.
The situation in Bangladesh has remained manageable till now, he commented.
"Although we have only prepared the flu corner for now, we have discussed preparing isolation beds out of caution in case the situation gets out of hand," he added.
"We have previously tackled situations like pox and diarrhea epidemics. So we do not need to panic right now," the physician further said.
Earlier on March 10, the Ministry of Finance allocated Tk45.51 crore from the Tk50 crore released for facilitating the treatment of coronavirus infected people, for buying surgical equipment and treating infected patients. The rest of the money will be used in public awareness campaigns and for buying chemical reagents.
People flocking to hospitals
Alauddin Ali, 24, was panic-stricken as he had been suffering from cold along with throat pain for several days.
He headed to the Mugda 500-Bed General Hospital on Saturday morning and was assured by the outdoor medicine doctors that he was not infected with coronavirus, rather the common fever.
This is not an isolated case. Many people went to the hospital with similar symptoms, fearing they were infected with the epidemic causing virus Covid-19.
The hospital officials said all the people who went there with concerns over coronavirus infection were suffering from seasonal cold or allergy related diseases.
Dr Md Khairul Alam, the deputy director of the hospital, told Dhaka Tribune: "Diseases like cold and fever increase in the spring season. We are prepared to tackle that based on previous experience but more and more people are coming to the hospital every day fearing they have been infected with coronavirus."
"Coronavirus does not seem to be a risk yet in Bangladesh. However, as per government directives, we have set up a separate unit specifically for that with 80 beds for isolation, 40 beds for infected people, and five intensive care units. Doctors have been trained and are prepared to provide treatment," Dr Khairul added.
Doctors at Dhaka Medical College Hospital are also experiencing a similar situation. At least 565 people, including children, have been to the hospital fearing coronavirus infection.
"All of them were either suffering from respiratory problems, fever, coughs or headache," assured the hospital's Outdoor Ward Master Abul Basher Sikder.
The hospital has set up a temporary special health camp with help from the Departments of Ear, Nose and Throat, Medicine, and Pediatrics in front of the outdoor unit to cope with the situation.
People suffering from cold, fever, and cough are undergoing general check-ups at ShSMC, too. The hospital, on average, is checking 200 patients with such afflictions every day.
IEDCR Director Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora said around 23 thousand calls came to IEDCR and Directorate General of Health Services hotlines, including 3500 on Saturday, seeking advice regarding cold, throat pain, and coronavirus related issues.