Many hospitals – both public and private – have been turning down requests from families of the patients
Patients dying from denial of medical treatment have been rising as hospitals continue to refuse those with respiratory problems and fever in fear of Covid-19, an infectious virus that has already claimed 228 lives and infected over 14,000 people in Bangladesh.
Even after repeated warnings of action from the government for refusing treatment to any patient, hospitals across Bangladesh continue such practices by ignoring many patients every day.
Many hospitals – both public and private – have been turning down requests from families of the patients saying that admitting anyone to the hospital with respiratory problems and fever can trigger a Covid-19 transmission.
However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque continuously requested doctors and hospitals to serve patients irrespective of their symptoms and warned of consequences if they fail to do so.
On Thursday last week, a top bureaucrat was refused admission by several hospitals, one after another, citing concerns of Covid-19 infection.
Gautam Aich Sarker, additional secretary at the Food Ministry, was first taken to Labaid Hospital in Dhaka when he was badly in need of a kidney dialysis, but the hospital turned down the request for his admission highlighting his respiratory problems, a common symptom of Covid-19 infection.
The family also took him to United Hospital, Universal Medical College Hospital, Square Hospital, Anwar Khan Modern Medical College Hospital, Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Regent Hospital in Mirpur, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, but all of their efforts ended in vain.
He was finally admitted to the Kurmitola General Hospital in Dhaka at night after a relative managed to secure a seat for him at the hospital.
Gautam, who was later found Covid-19 positive, died on Saturday.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, all the hospitals in question claimed that Gautam was referred to a Covid-19 specialized hospital as he had symptoms of being infected with the deadly virus.
The case of Gautam, even after being a top public servant of the country, has become the same as many other such cases in the country.
On Thursday, a patient named Rebecca Sultana died inside an ambulance after six hospitals allegedly refused to treat her.
Rebecca was undergoing dialysis at BRB Hospital in Dhaka when she had a cardiac arrest on Thursday morning.
When the hospital referred the family to take her to Heart Foundation since they did not have cardiac facilities, the family took her to Heart Foundation and other five hospitals in Dhaka, but all of them denied her admission demanding a certificate first that confirms that the patient was Covid-19 negative.
She died inside the ambulance while the family was desperately running from one hospital to another for admission.
On May 4, a returnee from Saudi Arabia died after many hospitals in Chittagong denied him treatment citing Covid-19 symptoms.
The patient, Sekander Hossain tested positive for coronavirus after his death.
On April 14, Jashim Uddin, aged 52, from Savar died at Dhaka Mahanagar General Hospital, 45 minutes after being admitted to the hospital.
Prior to that, Jashim, a patient with a previous history of asthma and respiratory problems, was refused by five hospitals in both Dhaka and Savar.
The matter of denial of treatment by hospitals came into limelight on April 6, when a postgraduate student of the Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University (DU) died at Khagrachhari after being refused treatment by some top hospitals in Dhaka on suspicion of being Covid-19 positive.
Suman Chakma was a 22nd batch student of the institute, hailing from Datkuta area of Khagrachhari Sadar.
Suman, who had long been suffering from lung complications, fell ill on March 11 and was taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, and later to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), Gonoshasthaya Nagar Hospital, and the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital (NIDCH) for treatment, but all four hospitals refused him suspecting him as a Covid-19 patient.
He was then taken back to his village home from Dhaka on March 18, where he finally died.
Deprived of treatment, Suman expressed his frustration on social media prior to his death.
Warnings ignored, one after another
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, after the death of the DU student, came down heavily on the matter asking why a patient would have to die after running from one hospital to another.
“The student went to different hospitals but none served him,” she said, asking the authorities to inform her name of the doctors who were on duty when the patient went to the hospitals for treatment.
Saying that doctors who denied treating patients have no rights to continue their jobs, she ordered everyone to do their respective duties accordingly.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque repeatedly warned that hospitals and clinics must provide services to patients no matter what they are infected with.
He also warned them of strict action against them, including the cancellation of licenses, if they violate the order.
Plan to tackle such cases
When asked, Directorate General of Health Services Additional Director General Nasima Sultana said an instruction to all hospitals has been issued asking them to inform DGHS if any suspected Covid-19 patient visits or requests for treatment.
“They have been asked to contact the coordinated control room of DGHS whenever they receive any suspected Covid-19 patient and fail to admit them due to suspicion,” she said.
The DGHS will then communicate with hospitals and identify where the patient will be treated.
“Hospitals violating this order will face legal action,” she reiterated the warning, issued by the health minister earlier.
Public health expert Rashid-e-Mahbub said the government should dedicate medical college hospitals and district hospitals across Bangladesh for patients who come for treatment with symptoms like respiratory illness of fever.
“As many medical colleges now have testing facilities, the patients can quickly be tested and isolated if found positive. This will help ensure treatment for them,” he said.
Mahbub, chairman of Bangladesh Health Rights Movement and former president of Bangladesh Medical Association, however, stressed that all the doctors, nurses, who will deal with such suspects need to wear personal protective equipment to ensure their own safety.
NHRC to file writ petition as hospitals denying treatment
Condemning the deaths, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Sunday decided to move to court as it feels that such practices by these hospitals had violated the peoples’ right to healthcare.
During an online meeting, chaired by NHRC Chairperson Nasima Begum, the commission discussed various news reports on people being deprived of their right to medical treatment.
The incidents were 'inhumane', the commission observed.
The commission also decided to file a writ petition as medical services were not being ensured due to “indifference and irresponsibility of some institutions or individuals,” according to a press release.