Ventilator machines pump air to the lungs of a patient through a tube placed in the windpipe, helping them breathe
Although two months have passed since the first coronavirus (Covid-19) infection was reported in China's Wuhan city in late December 2019, Bangladesh has managed to secure only 1,267 ventilator machines for its population amid the global pandemic.
“Currently, there are separate ventilators present in 1,267 Intensive Care Units (ICUs) – 520 in government hospitals and 737 in private hospitals – in Bangladesh” said Health Minister Zahid Maleque, who is leading the National Committee for Prevention and Control on Covid-19 in the country.
Among them, 926 are in Dhaka while the rest 341 are in other districts.
“Till now, 100 to 150 of the ICUs [with ventilators] have been dedicated for Covid-19 patients,” said the minister.
“We have over 500 ventilators in hand for use,” the minister said indicating that the ventilators now installed at ICUs of government hospitals can be used for Covid-19 treatment.
That means under the state healthcare system, there is one ventilator for every 317,300 people in the country, considering the current population of 165 million people.
Ventilator machines pump air to the lungs of a patient through a tube placed in the windpipe, helping them breathe.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in a press release issued on April 9, quoted the minister saying that another 380 new ventilators were being imported into the country.
On Monday, he said the government has been working to bring some 400 to 500 ventilators and oxygen generators in the country.
“However, it has become difficult to acquire those due to the present global situation,” the minister said.
Why ventilators will be crucial for Bangladesh?
Covid-19 – a severely acute respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus strain named Sars-CoV-2 –was first reported in China’s Wuhan city in late December.
On March 8, Bangladesh reported its first Covid-19 positive case and within little over a month, the number of total cases mounted to 803, with cases multiplying higher each day since April, thanks to the government’s ramping up of testing facilities.
Experts believe that although the number of coronavirus cases confirmed in Bangladesh was still lower compared to many other nations, the coming days will be critical if the country does not prepare itself properly for testing, isolation, and quarantining people.
People with a history of respiratory problems can come as a major hindrance in Covid-19 treatment because of scarcity of ventilators, they added.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said data from China suggests that 15–20% of Covid-19 cases required hospitalization, with around 15% of cases presenting severe symptoms and 5% requiring intensive care.
“Estimates from China also suggest that patients in intensive care units (ICUs) require approximately 13 days of respiratory support, while data from Italy show that 10–25% of patients will require ventilation, and some patients will need ventilation for several weeks,” it pointed out.
The document emphasized that critical interventions, such as ICU beds and mechanical ventilators, must be made available to health care workers and others supporting the response in terms of services and infrastructure, whose training makes them indispensable.
Bangladesh in spotlight
Save the Children, an international NGO, recently called for international assistance to help Bangladesh meet a surge in demand for ventilators to cope with the Covid-19 outbreak and to help avert a humanitarian disaster in the country.
“Most of the country’s intensive care beds and ventilators are in the major urban centres including the capital Dhaka, making it difficult for remote communities to access,” Dr Shamim Jahan, deputy country director for Save the Children in Bangladesh, said in a statement on April 7.
Dr AM Shamim, managing director of LabAid Group, said Bangladesh will need at least 10,000 ventilators to keep it prepared.
“If the government asks the banks to provide low-interest loans to private hospitals, we can procure and set up 1,000 ventilators within a month to meet the demand,” Dr Shamim said.
The doctor also said China was now providing ventilators to other countries as their demand has come down, Bangladesh could request China to provide ventilators too.
Earlier on April 8, while speaking at a videoconference between health professionals from Bangladesh and China, Health Minister Zahid Maleque sought increased support from China particularly for personal protective equipment and ventilators saying Bangladesh will be in need of more support to deal with the crisis.