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Coronavirus: Frustration rising over inadequate hotline services

  • Published at 10:19 pm March 19th, 2020
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Difficulty in connecting to hotline numbers; in one case, responder was negligent

 

With the first Covid-19 death reported in Bangladesh on Wednesday, concerns about public health safety is on the rise every day. The global pandemic has already claimed more than 11,000 lives across the world since its outbreak nearly three months ago. 

To help the citizens reach out to public health professionals in times of need, the government has introduced several hotline numbers, where a person, if suspected to have contracted Covid-19 infection, can call and report their symptoms. 

But getting a hold of the healthcare officials over the hotline numbers seems to be extremely difficult.

In one case, a hotline responder was utterly unprofessional in handling a citizen’s call.  

There are 17 hotline numbers that were launched by the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR). Of these 17 numbers, some lines are always found to be switched off, while some lines are found busy for hours, according to several irritated citizens who spoke with Dhaka Tribune on Thursday. 

Nabila Alam Pinky, a Jamalpur resident, said she tried to call IEDCR hotline numbers for two days – with no luck. 

“A friend of mine is ill and has symptoms that match with Covid-19 symptoms,” she told Dhaka Tribune. “I consistently tried calling four IEDCR hotline numbers for four hours, but couldn’t connect with any of them. All of them were busy.”

Pinky tried to call the numbers the next day, and around midnight was able to connect with one. “But the ringing went on and on; no one answered.”

There are two other hotline numbers for Covid-19 response: 16263, by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), and 333, by the Access to Information (a2i) program of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The state of the hotlines, services

Atiqua Roma, a resident of Dhaka, said she had all the symptoms of Covid-19 infection. 

“I have high fever and dyspnoea, so I tried to contact a doctor over the hotlines, but couldn’t,” she told Dhaka Tribune. 

“I tried the number 16263 the whole day on Tuesday, but nobody answered. Once, a lady answered the call, but hung up without any response,” she added. “I tried six or seven other numbers; some were switched off, and the others weren’t answered.”

Roma is now treating herself following the suggestions of her cousin, who is a doctor at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU). 

Tarek Hasan Nirjhor, a Dhaka University student, said he had fever and a little cough, and tried to reach a doctor through the hotline numbers for an hour.

“None of the numbers worked. Even the hunting number seemed to be out of order,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

“Finally, I was able to connect to an IEDCR hotline number on Monday,” Tarek said. “The doctor asked me if I had been in contact with any foreigners or returnees from abroad. When I said no, they suggested I stay home. When I insisted on getting tested, the doctor told me that they only had 2,000 testing kits, so it was not possible to conduct the test.”

On Thursday, this correspondent called 12 numbers among the IEDCR hotlines, three times each. Among the 12, five were switched off, six were busy, and one connected but wasn’t answered. 

The numbers that were found switched off are: 01401184555, 01401184556, 01401184559, 01401184563 and 01401184568.

The numbers that were busy are: 01401184551, 01401184560, 01927711784, 01927711785, 01937000011, and 01937110011.

This correspondent was able to connect with IEDCR Hotline 01401184554 at first attempt. After taking note of symptoms like coughing, the responder advised not to panic. 

This correspondent also tried the number 01944333222, the hunting number, introduced recently, through which the callers can get connected any other hotline that is free. 

The call to the hunting number got through after five minutes’ efforts.

When, posing as a patient, this reporter complained of having a cough and feeling feverish for four days, the responder asked if the patient had had any contact with foreigners or anyone who had recently come from abroad.

When this reporter answered no, the responder suggested seeing a doctor.

The call to 333, introduced by a2i to ensure convenience for the citizens, was redirected to 16263. 

But the call to 16263, the DGHS hotline, was the most shocking experience. 

Negligence in a time of crisis

This correspondent was able to connect with 16263 at the first attempt. The responder answered the call and said: “Tell me your name and age, and please describe your problems.” 

This reporter started listing the symptoms, but then noticed the responder was speaking to someone else. 

This correspondent tried to get her attention, saying “Hello!” loudly several times, but there was no response. 

At one point, she was heard telling someone else: “Mosquitoes have increased a lot.”

The call got cut off three minutes later.

The Covid-19 situation

As of March 20, 20 people in Bangladesh have been diagnosed with Covid-19 infection, caused by a new strain of coronavirus. The first three patients have made full recovery and been sent home, according to IEDCR. 

On March 18, a 70-year-old patient with Covid-19 infection died, the IEDCR confirmed. 

The disease broke out in Wuhan city, in the Hubei province of China, in December 2019, and has affected the entire world, becoming a pandemic, as declared by World Health Organization (WHO).

As of 11:50pm, Bangladesh time, on March 20, 263,071 people have been infected with the virus since the outbreak began, of whom 11,113 patients have died, according to the Coronavirus Research Center of Johns Hopkins University in the US. 

The Covid-19 hotline numbers

  • IEDCR: 01550064901, 01550064902, 01550064903, 01550064904, 01550064905, 01401184551, 01401184554, 01401184555, 01401184556, 01401184559, 01401184560, 01401184563, 01401184568, 01927711784, 01927711785, 01937000011, 01937110011

  • a2i: 333

  • DGHS: 16263

  • Hunting number: 01944333222

  • On Facebook Messenger: Iedcr, COVID-19 Control Room (Facebook IDs)

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