The government has decided to gradually suspend providing corona treatment from 12 dedicated Covid-19 hospitals as the number of corona patients there has marked a sharp fall in the last few weeks.
Health experts, however, fear that it will be a premature decision which can send out a wrong message among people already reluctant about the pandemic and make them more reckless to flout social distancing and health safety guidelines amid a warning that Bangladesh may witness the second wave of the deadly virus in the coming days.
Stating that there is a growing tendency among people to receive treatment for corona at home, they think the government should take steps to encourage such patients to go to hospitals and isolation centres to further rein in the corona spread and fatality rate instead of reducing the number of Covid-19 hospitals.
Contacted, Health Secretary Md Abdul Mannan said they have decided to gradually bring down the number of dedicated Covid hospitals due to the poor presence of patients there.
He said they have already suspended coronavirus treatment at Dhaka's Holy Family Red Crescent Medical College Hospital. “We’ve to spend huge money on the dedicated Covid hospitals as several hundred doctors are engaged with them. But the number of patients has dropped significantly at many such hospitals. So, it’s not justified to run all the Covid hospitals now,” he said.
He said 172 doctors are engaged with Bashundhara Covid Hospital but only 14 patients are receiving treatment there. “So, we can now close this makeshift hospital.”
The health secretary, however, said they will gradually suspend the operation of Covid hospitals observing the corona situation in the country.
Farid Hossain Miah, director (hospitals and clinics) at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said they recently sent a list of 12 dedicated Covid hospitals out of 64 in eight divisions to the Health Ministry for suspending their operation.
The hospitals include Holy Family Hospital, Dhaka Mahanagar Hospital, Lalkuthi MA O Shishu Kalyan Kendro, Bashundhara Covid Hospital, Infectious Disease Hospital at Mohakhali, Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases (BITID), Chattogram, Chattogram Railway Hospital, Field Hospital, Chattogram and four others both in Dhaka and Chattogram.
“We’ve already shut the corona unit at Holy Family Hospital and we’re waiting for approval to suspend operation at 11 other hospitals,” Farid said.
He also said they are also planning to gradually shut down the corona units at those hospitals treating both Covid and non-Covid patients to facilitate the non-corona patients.
Contacted, Prof Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19, said people are now reluctant to undergo tests and also receive treatment at hospitals due to their lack of ‘confidence’ in public health services as well as awareness and seriousness about the diseases.
He also said people are now not taking the virus seriously as the government downplayed the situation in various ways. “People are not getting information about the exact situation as the government stopped briefing on the corona situation without any reason.”
As people know 85 percent corona patients can recover by receiving treatment at home, the virologist said they are not coming to hospitals. “Doctors are saying people are now coming to hospitals when their conditions get critical. “If the Covid hospitals are now closed, it’ll again send out a negative message to people. So, instead of reducing the Covid hospitals, the government should take steps to inspire people to come to the hospitals.”
Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS, said the government needs a proper projection and assessment of the situation before suspending operation at the Covid hospitals.
“Many experts are saying the situation may deteriorate in the days to come and Bangladesh may witness the second wave of the corona infection. We need a contingency plan so that we can handle any emerging situation. If we close down the hospitals without any projection and plan, we may have to pay a price when the situation will aggravate,” he observed.
Dr Be-Nazir said it is fact that people have some sort of apathy to getting admitted to hospitals due to various scams, poor and unhealthy condition of many hospitals, mismanagement, misinformation and doctors’ callousness to handle the corona patients. “The government should pursue people to change such a negative attitude.”
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He said the government can reduce the number of doctors if the number of patients declines at the Covid hospitals. “But still we’re not in a position to suspend operation of the Covid hospitals.”
The health expert said the growing tendency of patients to avoid hospitals is weakening the government’s efforts to control the corona situation.
“First of all, if corona patients stay home, they don’t maintain proper isolation and there’s a chance that their relatives may get infected by them in various ways. Secondly, since they stay home they can’t assess their situation and oxygen saturation level. But the fall in saturation level may affect the patients’ kidneys and livers, especially those who have comorbidities. So, when they’re taken to hospitals at the last stage, doctors can’t save many of them. This is the reason why we’re seeing a high mortality rate though the infection rate has declined,” he added.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, a former adviser to WHO South-East Asia region, said Bangladesh is still in the list of the countries where corona infection may increase again.
“So, I think we should take more time to come to a decision to suspend operation at the Covid hospitals since there’s a global projection that the infection may increase here. We should encourage people who are above 40 with underlying health condition to go to hospitals as the death rate among this age group is very high,” he observed.