The physician has been asked to give his explanation in three working days
A doctor of Noakhali General Hospital has been asked to explain why departmental action will not be taken against him for criticizing the secretary of Health Services Division over inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
The hospital's Superintendent Dr Mohammad Farid Uddin Chowdhury, in a show-cause letter on Saturday, asked Dr Abu Taher to give his explanation in three working days regarding the criticism he did on Facebook.
Dr Taher is working as a medical officer (anaesthetist) at the state-run 250-bedded hospital.
The incident emerged at a time when at least 106 doctors tested positive for Covid-19 in the country as of 6pm on April 18. The infections were reported amid widespread discontent among the health professionals who have been demanding the PPEs.
However, the government said until April 17 it distributed 1,069,264 sets of PPE across the country and has 390,032 more in stock.
On April 16, Dr Taher posted: "I went to the hospital every day in the last one month. No one in my department including me has got any N95 or KN95 or even FFP2 masks as yet. Then why did the health secretary spread falsehood that he was providing masks similar to N95 respirators?
"Still he kept lying to the prime minister. What will be the punishment for the falsehood?"
Over the past one month, the doctor claimed, only two sets of PPE were given for eight members in his department. "And this is the example of sufficient stock of PPE.
"Now what will you say: we do not work? In the last one month, I myself performed 150 operations while not counting the others. We are not sitting idle despite not having those masks and PPE, and will not either. But why will you spread falsehood to the nation?" he continued.
Claiming that he operates on his patients wearing personal surgical masks every day, Dr Taher further wrote: "I do have my own PPE as well, but do not wear it since it will make no difference when the others (in the team) do not have similar safety gears."
Hinting at the health secretary, Dr Taher went on to ask: "What preparation did you take in the past three months? Can you tell me if these (PPE) are not available? Now many of us have been infected with Covid-19 due to such falsehood."
Thousands of taka has been misappropriated in the name of preparation in fighting the outbreak of coronavirus and by misinforming the prime minister, he concluded.
Hours after receiving the letter, Dr Taher posted its softcopy and again wrote: "Punishment for speaking the truth. If anyone can prove that I lied, I will accept any action. I will be in the battle (for safety of health professionals) as I am currently in and was in the past."
Meanwhile, the hospital's superintendent, in the letter, claimed that there were adequate PPEs in stock and those were being distributed among physicians, nurses, and other health workers on a priority basis.
"Dr Taher posted on social media without having proper knowledge about that, aiming to spread propaganda and instigate others," he added.
Besides, in the letter, the superintendent also mentioned an incident where Dr Taher misbehaved with a physician at the hospital's operation theatre and apologized in public later, which relieved him from the charge temporarily.
When asked about the matter, Dr Taher told Dhaka Tribune: "Some misunderstandings can arise while working. I apologized then and the issue was resolved. But, it is ill-motivated to link the incident with the present issue."
Dhaka Tribune tried to reach the superintendent for his comments over the phone, but he could not be reached, while the district Civil Surgeon Dr Mominur Rahman declined to comment over the show-cause notice.
Bangladesh reported its first death of a physician from Covid-19 on April 15. The victim himself was treating Covid-19 patients in Sylhet. Another doctor died with Covid-19 symptoms on April 12.
Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Nursing and Midwifery on April 15 ordered all of its officials and employees at government hospitals to refrain from speaking in public or to the media without prior permission.
According to media reports, no less than 100 health professionals were home-quarantined as of April 14.
Sharp reaction on Facebook
As of 2:15am on Sunday, Dr Taher's post regarding the show-cause letter drew no less than 4,500 reactions, with more than 1,100 people expressing their anger.
At least 1,000 people put their sad reaction, while 637 others commented on the post, which was shared some 2,700 times by then.
A Facebook user Hasan Arif commented: "All has to raise voice like Dr Taher. If you remain silent, you will be repressed. If you die of Covid-19, you will get some reward, but what will happen to your families?"
Govt's reluctance over PPE
On March 23, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said Bangladesh did not require a huge number of PPEs right at the moment. His comment came amid a growing demand for PPE from healthcare professionals.
"We do not need a large amount of PPEs right now, but we have kept several lakh PPEs in our stock," he said.
Two days later, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said a doctor must treat a patient with symptoms of Covid-19 first and then refer him/her to another doctor, who has PPE, for further treatment.
The decision was withdrawn a day later, as it drew massive criticism.
On April 18, Dr Nirupan Das, chief administrator of Bangladesh Doctors' Foundation, a platform of physicians, told Dhaka Tribune that they are in need of quality PPE, not the ordinary ones.
A total of 25% doctors and nurses and around 60% support staff engaged in treating coronavirus patients are yet to receive PPE, revealed a latest Brac survey.