The city's key healthcare centres selected for treating Covid-19 patients are yet to be fully equipped, reflecting the poor preparedness of the authorities to battle the virus, insiders said.
Although the health ministry on many occasions highlighted its national-level preparations to fight against the new coronavirus, after visiting some of the hospitals this correspondent found little evidence in support of that claim.
On visits to the hospitals or healthcare institutes, it was found that these healthcare centres lack basic requirements for the treatment of patients such as testing kits, personal protective gears, intensive care units, ventilator facility and even skilled workforce.
A case in point is Sheikh Rasel Gastro Liver Institute and Hospital at Mohakhali.
A notice at the main gate of the hospital says, "As per the government decision, this hospital is now adding urgent medical facilities for coronavirus patients. This hospital has yet to start treating such patients. Coronavirus infected patients or suspected ones are, thus, requested to go to other government-designated hospitals for treatment."
When contacted, director of the hospital Professor Dr Faruque Ahmed said they have been working hard to make it ready for providing treatment to Covid-19 patients.
He said they can accommodate 160 patients in the 250-bed hospital, because the arrangement for the highly infectious disease that will eat up one-third of the hospital space.
At the same time, the hospital has almost completed an 8-bed ICU unit with ventilator facility, he said
"I hope we'll be able to reach the operational stage within this week," he said, adding that they have additional eight beds in another block next to the ICU, which will be converted into ICU, if necessary.
Seeking anonymity, a physician at the hospital expressed his dissatisfaction over the preparedness, saying the institute has no testing kits, which is important.
"Even, we don't have skilled people who will do the necessary testing. Work is still going on to set up the ICU here. I am doubtful about starting the operations in a week," he added.
The situation at the Railway General Hospital, another designated facility for treating corona patients, is far from satisfactory because renovation work is still going on.
This correspondent found people looking for testing facilities there.
When asked, the people said they heard from the media that the hospital has been selected for treating people with pneumonia-like illness caused by the virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December.
Superintendent of the hospital Dr Syed Firoz Alamgir said there are no patients in the hospital at the moment and renovation work is in progress.
"It's the government's plan to use it if the situation deteriorates. Although renovation work is going on, people often come here for the purpose of treatment. We're not ready for that. We don't have minimum logistics for it," he added.
The 200-bed Maternal & Child Health Training & Research Institute at Lalkuthi and Mirpur Metropolitan General Hospital were also found to be ill-prepared to deliver services to patients infected with novel coronavirus.
Officials at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said eight hospitals have been designated to treat only Covid-19 patients.
In addition, Dhaka Medial College Hospital, Mugda General, Kurmitola, Suhrawardy and Infectious Diseases Hospitals have separate beds for the COVID-19 patients.
Director of Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery Prof Dr Abul Kalam Azad said the institute was supposed to treat the virus-infected patients.
"But the government dropped the plan considering the infection risk for burn injury patients. But it will now be used for training our local professionals by overseas experts about the virus," he added.
Dr Md Habibur Rahman, director at the DGHS said they have started distributing testing kits across the country.
"I think coronavirus will be tested in all divisions across the country within the next 10 days," he said, adding that they have imparted necessary training to the lab technicians through video-conferencing.
According to the relevant officials, nearly 50,000 pieces of testing kits are now available with the DGHS, of which major portion came from China.
They said the government also placed procurement orders as the demand for such kits has been rising.
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