Coronavirus till now has killed more than 9,000 people in over 170 countries, including one in Bangladesh
Despite strong claims that it has taken appropriate measures against the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems that the Bangladesh government is finding it difficult to handle the deteriorating situation owing to poor preparations on its part.
Things are not looking promising as the authorities concerned are not only struggling to secure an adequate number of coronavirus test kits but also are short of personal protection equipment (PPE) for the doctors, nurses and health sector employees attending such patients.
Coronavirus till now has killed more than 9,000 people in over 170 countries, including one in Bangladesh.
Health sector experts have criticized the government for the delay in preparation in this regard while acknowledging the shortage of time and scope for acquiring necessary health service materials.
Immediately after the World Health Organization
(WHO) declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, the worldwide demand for coronavirus test kits skyrocketed.
The case of PPE is much worse since most companies in Bangladesh are struggling to meet the growing demand due to a shortfall of raw materials, which are mostly imported from China.
Meanwhile, on March 9, two days after Bangladesh confirmed its first coronavirus cases, Health Minister Zahid Maleque claimed that the government was completely prepared to tackle the situation.
The minister also said that the authorities had received 500 test kits from the Chinese government, adding, “There is a stock of 2,000 test kits in Bangladesh and the process to import more is underway.”
Expressing deep concern, Dr Saif Ullah Munshi, professor at the virology department of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said: “The present situation shows that we are far behind whatever preparations should have been in place for the pandemic.”
“The government does not only lack the number of test kits required considering the volume of potential patients and population density of Bangladesh but is also grappling in ensuring appropriate preparedness throughout the country, causing disorder and spreading panic at government hospitals.”
He urged the government to ensure an adequate number of kits for testing, maintain an accurate list of those already infected, and get hospitals to have health service facilities throughout the country in place at the earliest in a bid to fight coronavirus.
The step of placing people under home quarantine, he said, was a technique toward relaxing the health sector to some extent, so that it could get ready for the second stage of the crisis, if necessary.
Dr ABM Abdullah, personal physician to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, at a press conference on the country’s health workers’ safety at the National Press Club, said the authorities concerned had not really been prepared to take necessary safety measures to combat coronavirus.
When contacted, a number of government officials claimed that the government had enough stock of coronavirus test kits.
Abul Kalam Azad, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), yesterday told reporters that the number of testing kits would soar to nearly 10,000 by next week once the consignments promised by different countries arrived.
He, however, declined to disclose details on the exact stock of testing kits now available in Bangladesh.
Azad went on saying that the authorities had already introduced some medication facilities at the division-level health institutions, adding that more necessary equipment would be supplied there.
“After expanding the facilities, we will test the returnees or those who came in contact with them in order to understand the actual situation,” he added.
Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) director Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora said: “We are regularly receiving kits from WHO, with Singapore and China promising us more kits.”
Till yesterday, the IEDCR had tested a total of 366 individuals. Among which 17 were found infected with the deadly virus and three were released upon recovering. The first death from the virus in Bangladesh was confirmed on Wednesday morning.
Hassle as IEDCR is the only entity to detect COVID-19
Currently, IEDCR, situated in Dhaka, is the sole authority in providing testing facilities for coronavirus (Covid-19) in Bangladesh.
“Wherever tests are conducted, they will be under our supervision as it is one of the core duties of the institution,” said IEDCR director Dr Meerjady.
She, however, said the facilities would not be expanded to any other centre in Dhaka.
“Since the number of patients is rising, we are assuming that it may rise further. Keeping that in mind, we are working on to expand testing facilities in all the divisions; that too, under the supervision of the IEDCR,” she added.
According Dr Meerjady, the installation of testing facilities is underway in three divisions which will be done within a week.
As reported by Dhaka Tribune correspondents across Bangladesh, hundreds of patients with cold and fever have been flocking to different hospitals every day, demanding a medical test for coronavirus.
However, most hospitals are referring them to IEDCR in Dhaka because of lack of facilities.
But, as per standard procedures, hospital authorities are expected to report a suspected infected person to IEDCR and the local team of the institution will collect the test samples.
IEDCR is only testing people with coronavirus symptoms, only if the suspected patient came in contact with coronavirus patients or came from a place where coronavirus patients have been detected.
Dr Flora said this process followed is based on the guideline maintained by World Health Organization (WHO).
Meanwhile, Health Minister Zahid Malique on Wednesday said that they are going to establish coronavirus units in every district.
Doctors, nurses in fear of getting infected
Several physicians in government hospitals in and outside of the capital feared that they might get infected by Covid-19 as they do not have enough number of PPE at their disposal.
A physician, seeking anonymity, said the doctors and nurses who treated the coronavirus patient who died while undergoing treatment at a Dhaka hospital on Wednesday, are now under threat of themselves getting infected.
Md Ridwanur Rahman, professor of Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital, on his Facebook account on Monday posted: “... Health care workers just can't commit suicide by taking care of undiagnosed Covid-19 cases unprotected.”
DGHS DG Azad during Thursday’s briefing said they will provide PPE for the doctors and other health workers attending coronavirus patients in installments for 10 days but not more than that.