Families are forced to sell properties or start fundraiser events to receive Covid treatment
Thirty-seven-year-old Afroza’s life turned upside down when she lost her husband to Covid-19 last year. He died of a heart attack after contracting Covid-19 in Oman. Afroza and her children could not see him for the very last time.
The grieving family were trying to get their life back together, but life had other plans for them.
Almost all of them tested positive in April. Afroza, her sisters, children and brother-in-law tested Covid-19 positive but Afroza was the only one who needed hospitalization.
Afroza’s lungs were severely infected by the virus. Her bother Symon Islam Yeal told Dhaka Tribune that almost 90% of his sister’s lungs had been infected and therefore there was no way other than to take her to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of United Hospital.
The Covid-19 crisis is not only taking lives. Families of the patients are overburdened with treatment costs. Dhaka Tribune talked to a few patients’ families to draw a picture of how Covid-19 had been draining its victims financially.
“We were overburdened with the cost of medicines as seven people in our family were infected. We spent almost Tk2 lakh for the medicine. Among them, my sister was in bad shape. We are doing everything to save her,” Afroza’s brother said.
United Hospital charges almost Tk60,000 per day. Different lab tests cost more than Tk60,000. The hospital bills kept mounting and then Afroza’s family realized that it was next to impossible to manage the huge amount of money by themselves.
Yeal, with the help of his friends, started a fundraising event on Facebook on April 24 to raise money for his sister's treatment. Support poured in from home and abroad within a few days. Yeal has been able to manage more than Tk7 lakh for his sister's treatment so far.
He said: “Dozens of people have been calling, texting, and reaching out to my family every day to check on my sister and the kids since the fundraising event started. Many people have contributed a significant amount of money and the fund is now being spent on hospital payments and medications for my Covid-infected family members.”
Yeal estimates that his sister needs around Tk20 lakh to complete her treatment and he is not even close to the target.
Afroza’s health condition is improving and her doctors said that they were hopeful that she would make a recovery.
However, Yeal said the doctors had diagnosed Afroza with long-haul Covid-19. She might need to be in the hospital for months and need oxygen support and medication.
The treatment cost for Covid-19 varies from hospital to hospital. Although Covid-19 treatment is expensive in general, the amount of money people need to spend depends on the patient’s condition.
According to a spokesperson of Anwar Khan Modern Medical College Hospital, a single bed in the Covid ward per day in the hospital costs Tk1,200 to Tk1,500.
However, the bill would be 10 times more if a patient needed to be shifted to the ICU. A patient needs to pay Tk10,000-15,000 per day for an ICU bed. The high flow nasal cannula costs up to Tk4,000 per day.
In another case, 69-year-old Covid patient Lutfur Rahman Talukder died on April 21 at Japan Bangladesh Friendship Hospital (JBFH). He had been suffering from liver cirrhosis for many years and on April 15, he tested Covid-19 positive.
One of his sons, Ashraful Kabir, said his father was at the High Dependency Unit (HDU) of LabAid Specialized Hospital for 27 hours, which cost his family Tk84,872. Then the doctors asked them to arrange an ICU as soon as possible.
His father was admitted to JBFH on April 17 and died on April 22. The total bill was around Tk3,22,492.
He said if they had to continue his treatment for a few more days they would have had to sell their property.
What is happening at government hospitals?
State-run hospitals offer treatment at low cost but even in this nationwide health crisis, brokers take a significant amount of money from patients’ attendants to arrange hospital beds for them.
An attendant of a 65-year-old female Covid patient told Dhaka Tribune his aunt, coming from Tangail, was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) on April 17.
He said his family was lucky to manage a bed as they had some connections at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). However, they had to pay Tk10,000 to a staff member at DMCH.
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A number of attendants of the Covid patients told Dhaka Tribune that they had to pay Tk1,000 to Tk10,000 for a hospital bed at the Covid section although a patient only needs to pay Tk275 for a bed officially.
He said: "We had to buy a few medicines from the pharmacy and the hospital gave a few. Most of the time we have to buy Remdesivir injection and normally it costs Tk4,500. But we can buy those for Tk1,600-2,200 because medical representatives directly call us to sell that injection at a low price. "
In the space of a week, they had to spend Tk15,000 just to buy medicines.
Mahbub Alam’s wife was admitted to Holy Family Red Crescent Medical College Hospital for four days to give birth to their child. But when she tested Covid-19 positive, the authorities said they would not keep her at their hospital.
Later, Alam took her to DMCH.
Mahbub Alam is the father of four children now. He has had no source of income for a year and a half due to the Covid-19 fallout. Even then, he had to spend Tk70,000 for four days at Holy Family Hospital.
DMCH Director Brig Gen Nazmul Haque told Dhaka Tribune: "Everything is free of cost here [DMCH]. We have 780 beds in total. Everyday almost 200 to 300 beds remain vacant at my hospital. "
"If people are busy paying the brokers without questioning, it is difficult for us to break the chain because they themselves are encouraging corruption and irregularities," he said.