Nurses in the country are worried of being traumatised in some cases as most hospitals are not in a position to provide them with the personal protective equipment (PPE) they require looking after patients of a highly contagious disease such as COVID-19.
The World Health Organization defines PPE as consisting of “garments placed to protect the healthcare workers or any other persons from getting infected. These usually consist of standard precautions: gloves, mask, gown. If it is blood or airborne high infection will include: Face protection, goggles and mask or faceshield, gloves, gown or coverall, head cover, rubber boots.”
Coronavirus’ exact transmission dynamics are not fully understood yet. Mainly, it is believed to be transmitted through droplets, but some studies have indicated it may even transmit through airborne particles. What is beyond doubt is that it is highly contagious.
Talking to many nurses at different hospitals, UNB found them extremely disturbed at the prospect of having to work with the patients in close proximity. It is not just a matter of their own safety. They may pick up the virus and pass it on to other patients just as easily, or their family members, or anyone else.
Their concerns have been heightened by the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 witnessing a dramatic rise in the last few days, which means soon they will have to be looking after them.
Asma Akhter, a senior staff nurse at a hospital, shared her grief on social media in a post that went viral, after which UNB contacted her.
She said they are left hopeless as no-one is thinking about their safety seriously during this corona pandemic.
The nurse mentioned an overview of nurses before sharing her experience.
Bangladesh has a total of 41, 600 registered nurses, which works out to a nurse and population ratio of 1:3839. But WHO sets a standard that there should be two nurses for every 1000 people. Bangladesh needs 278,400 nurses more to reach that standard.
She said infection of a nurse with the virus will hamper smooth health services for the affected patients. “Don't send us unarmed into the battle,” she pleaded.
Asma also said they are humiliated in many cases which will cause them to lose their courage to serve patients during this critical situation.
Seeking the support of all, she urged all to work together to combat the COVID-19 forgetting all differences. "Don’t humiliate us and rather encourage us as it’ll help us serve you better. If we can keep ourselves safe and healthy, you’ll get proper services from us. You should stand by us for your sake," she added.
A nurse who is working in Rohingya camps under an international NGO told UNB on condition of anonymity that Bangladesh citizens are mostly unaware of safety measures to protect others when they are carrying a disease, while the situation is even worse in Rohingya camps.
"We’ve to handle patients who have cough and fever without any protection anyway. Rohingyas sometimes come and visit us even when they are not sick. Nowadays their frequent visits make us scared and worried as it’ll affect us first," she said with resentment.
Suchanda Halder, a senior staff nurse at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said nursing is really challenging amid this pandemic situation. "We all have families. We don’t want to sidestep our professional responsibility at this critical moment."
She also said, "Now I don’t want to be the cause of death of my parents and family. It’s a bit scary. If the protected equipment is appropriate, then this fear will lessen."
Expressing her commitment to serve people, the nurse said she is working in defiance of pressure from her family to quit unless the authorities are able to protect her. "But we can’t do that. It’ll be the betrayal with the people of the country and my own profession. Because we’re committed to serving people," she reiterated.
Members of Bangladesh Registered Nurse Oikya Parishad, an association of registered nurses, said they are not getting PPE though they stay with the patients more the time.
They said hospitals do not have any residential facilities for the health workers who are working with COVID-19 cases that the nurses could use instead of potentially taking the disease home to their families.
Nurses are returning home after ending their duty round at the hospitals, which is posing serious risks to their family members as well as others they come in touch with.
At least three nurses have already tested positive with the novel coronavirus in Bangladesh so far, according to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).
Nurses claimed that lack of sufficient PPE is fueling the safety concerns for them, as the number of coronavirus-infected patients is increasing every day in the country.
Nurses in some countries have protested demanding adequate protective equipment to deal with the deadly coronavirus that has spread worldwide.
The nurses in Bangladesh also hinted at staging such protests if they do not get their safety equipment.
Some of the nurses of private hospitals have resigned from as the hospital authorities were not willing to provide PPE to them.
UNB spoke to one such nurse, named Gulam Yesveer.
He said nurses are getting low priority in terms of safety measures though they are serving people the most. “It would have been suicidal to serve people without any protection during this pandemic situation,” he said when asked why he quit.