Bangladesh has increased the number of hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients but more than two-thirds of the hospital beds are now lying empty even as the caseload continues to climb.
With the number of infections approaching 200,000, the health directorate has estimated that 70.99 per cent hospital beds across the country are empty, reports bdnews24.com.
At one time, there was a high demand for ICU beds but now 43.85 per cent of those beds are unused.
According to a notice issued by the health directorate on Sunday, as many as 10,041 of 14,668 beds set aside for coronavirus patients in designated hospitals were not being used.
On the other hand, 164 of 374 ICU beds are lying vacant, it said.
After the first cases of the coronavirus were detected on Mar 8, patients would be eager to get admitted to hospitals even if the symptoms were mild. Kurmitola General Hospital and Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital in Dhaka were initially designated for coronavirus treatment.
Later, as the number of patients continued to increase, 16 more government and private hospitals in the capital were dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 cases.
Eight public and private hospitals were also assigned for coronavirus treatment in Chattogram. Later, the health ministry directed all government hospitals in the country to open separate units for treatment of COVID-19 patients alongside other patients.
Many patients have shunned hospitals due to worries about the standard of care at the facilities.
According to hospital officials, low severity of the disease is the reason behind the low turnout at hospitals as many patients are receiving treatment at home.
However, health experts have pointed at mismanagement that was rife in the health sector at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak for patients' reluctance to seek treatment at hospitals.
Doctors, meanwhile, have warned the tendency among critically-ill patients to avoid hospitals can put their lives at risk.
RELUCTANCE OF PATIENTS
Tareq Aziz, a resident of Dhaka’s Dhanmondi, contracted the virus in May.
He initially planned to get admitted to a hospital but later changed his mind considering the situation at health facilities.
"I was scared. Reports of mismanagement in hospitals appeared in the media every day. The doctors tasked with providing treatment did not even have PPEs,” Tareq said.
Seven to eight patients were dying in the hospital wards every day and there was no-one to move their bodies, said Tareq.
“I started my own treatment at home under the circumstances. I tested negative for the virus later on.”
Ashraful Islam, son of 60-year-old patient Sultana Zaman from Sylhet, said, “My mother is suffering from various health problems like diabetes and heart disease. She got infected with the virus while receiving treatment at a private hospital. Afterwards, we did not dare to take her to any other hospital.”
Ashraful said he was treating his mother at home on the advice of a doctor.
"She is being given oxygen at home. We are using telemedicine services. My mother is now on the path to recovery. The symptoms of the coronavirus are almost non-existent now.”
DISTRUST IN HOSPITALS
Dr Mushtuq Husain, an adviser to the IEDCR, has held hospital managements responsible for the mistrust among patients.
“Only critically-ill patients go to hospitals and they do not receive treatment. Health workers do not go near them. Such a situation has arisen.”
Hospitals have turned away patients from the start of the outbreak on various pretexts and it has eroded the confidence of the marginalised people in these facilities, the expert said.
File PhotoFile Photo“Non-COVID-19 patients have also died amid the pandemic. When other patients went to the hospitals, they were told to first get tested for the virus.”
However, the regular statistics published by the health directorate on the number of empty beds at COVID-19 hospitals have brought ‘transparency’ to the health sector, said Mushtuq.
"Patients with complex problems will now have the confidence to go to hospitals if they can be treated under proper management.”
Most coronavirus patients are reluctant to go to hospitals as their symptoms are mild, said Dr Rafiqul Alam, vice-chancellor (administration) of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
"The number of coronavirus cases is increasing. But the severity of the disease is somewhat decreasing. The number of patients with strong symptoms is decreasing. They feel safe to receive treatment at home. There is no need for patients to go to the hospital if the symptoms are mild.”
Brig Gen Jamilur Reza, director of Kurmitola General Hospital, said, “In the beginning, patients would rush to hospitals as soon as they started having breathing problems and fevers. But the situation has changed now.”
"The number of hospitals for COVID-19 treatment has increased. Private hospitals have been added to the fold and patients are also being admitted in district hospitals. The number of patients has fallen as a result. Those with mild symptoms are recovering at home with treatment.”