Government officials, experts at odds over cause of rush
As many as 75% of coronavirus patients at hospitals in Dhaka are from rural areas of other divisions, according to Health Minister Zahid Maleque.
His remarks, made on Saturday, suggest that health facilities outside the capital are underdeveloped.
However, the health authorities denied any such suggestion, saying people rushed to Dhaka “from a false belief” that they would receive better treatment in the capital.
On the other hand, public health experts said the government is reaping the consequences of concentrating anti-Covid-19 efforts on Dhaka while health facilities outside the capital remained “fragile.”
Md Nazmul Haque, Director, Dhaka Medical College Hospital, corroborated the figure cited by the health minister. Out of 60 Covid-19 patients admitted to the hospital on Friday, 45 were from outside Dhaka.
“Two types of people come here from the districts outside Dhaka: either they have been referred from other hospitals or they were getting treatment at home but then came to Dhaka for better treatment,” the DMCH director said.
“In both cases, patients usually arrive in critical condition. At that stage, most of them cannot fully recover and the disease has a long-lasting impact on their health,” he added.
Pressure on Dhaka hospitals from patients of other divisions ‘nothing new’
Dr Robed Amin, a spokesperson for the health directorate, said the tendency for people to rush to Dhaka for treatment had been a regular phenomenon even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This figure is nothing new. Most people of the country who are a little solvent tend to rush to Dhaka for treatment because they think health facilities in the capital are the best in the country, and this perception is no different for Covid-19,” he said.
“We are not like the US or Europe. It is not possible to build hospitals with state-of-the-art technology in every district, so the pressure on Dhaka hospitals is normal,”added the senior official of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
He denied that there was a scarcity of Covid-19 facilities or oxygen outside Dhaka, blaming people for putting undue pressure on hospitals and clinics by refusing to follow health guidelines.
“We have an adequate amount of oxygen to serve in our dedicated Covid facilities. But the people of our country have exhausted the health system by not taking our health directives seriously,” he added.
Experts: Govt focusing on Dhaka too much
Dr Rashid-E-Mahbub, chairman of the National Committee on Health Rights Movement, said the high proportion of patients at Dhaka hospitals from other divisions reveals how fragile the health system outside the capital is.
“The government has set up a big chunk of the health system centered around Dhaka. From Covid testing to treatment and vaccine facilities, everything is concentrated in Dhaka despite the dire situation at the district and upazila levels, especially in the rural areas,” he said.
The activist and health expert also said the pressure on Dhaka had significantly risen due to the ongoing lockdown to contain Covid-19 transmission.
“People from border areas are highly dependent on India for medical treatment. Since the border is closed, Dhaka naturally has to take the extra burden,” he added.
When asked if the pressure from other divisions reduced access to treatment for patients from Dhaka, the former president of the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) said the general people would face trouble, but there would be no problems for the affluent.
Dr Shagufa Anwar, director of Communications and Business Development at the leading private hospital United Hospital, said most of the patients there were still from within Dhaka.
“At United, most of the Covid patients we have right now are from Dhaka. During the first and second waves, we had more people from Chittagong, Satkhira, Mymensingh and North Bengal. Due to the shutdown, the number is low at this moment,” she added.