The coronavirus pandemic exposed the inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption of the country’s health sector, leaving Covid-19 patients as well as frontline fighters, including doctors, to suffer at the beginning of the outbreak.
The government could not initially arrange sufficient beds at hospitals and isolation centres for the Covid-19 patients. There was also no arrangement of enough intensive care unit (ICU) beds for critical patients at the hospitals, say experts.Besides, there was a shortage of manpower, including physicians, nurses, and medical technologists, and oxygen cylinders at the Covid-dedicated hospitals.
The testing facility was also scanty as there were a very few labs for covering the entire population of the country.
As a result, people had to run from one place to another and wait for days for getting tested and one hospital to another to get beds and oxygen support, costing many lives.
Frontline fighters, including doctors and nurses, also got exposed to risk as they had to provide treatment to Covid-19 patients with limited facilities as there was a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) when the virus first struck the country.
The physicians and nurses had been serving patients with the risk of being infected with the deadly pathogen as they did not get enough PPE, including N95 masks, goggles and gloves.
Irregularities at hospitals, faking test certificates, illegal plasma donation and corruption in the purchase of protective gears and other medical kits also came to the fore amid the pandemic.However, the government tackled the situation gradually and brought it under control. The initial mismanagement shattered people’s confidence in the country’s health system, prompting them to turn away from hospitals, especially for Covid-19 treatment, said an expert.
Now, huge general and ICU beds are lying vacant at Covid-dedicated hospitals as people do not want to go to those, he said.
Bangladesh reported its first three coronavirus cases on March 8 last and first death from the virus on March 18.
According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Bangladesh registered 516,019 infections and 7,626 deaths from the highly contagious virus as of January 3.
“The worst condition of the country’s health sector got exposed when the coronavirus hit Bangladesh. Though the government has improved the condition over the time, it’s not enough yet,” Dr Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Advisory Committee on Covid-19 and former Vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), told the Daily Sun.
He said there was lack of physicians and ICU beds to give proper treatment to the coronavirus-infected patients. “Many Covid-19 patients died for lack of ICU beds at the hospitals while the services at the district level were very poor,” he said. Talking to the Daily Sun, Health Services Division Secretary Md Abdul Mannan said the Health Ministry has done many things to face the Covid-19 pandemic. “We’ve already recruited several thousand doctors and nurses while the process is underway to recruit around 3,000 more medical technologists to ensure proper healthcare services,” he said.
He claimed that the government is spending around Tk 130,000 for the treatment of each general Covid-19 patient while Tk around 3.5 lakh for those need ICU support each.
The government recruited 2,000 physicians and 3,000 nurses to ensure proper health services for people and tackle the surging coronavirus pandemic. The process is going on to recruit 2,000 more physicians and 4,000 other nurses. Around 3,000 medical technologists will also be recruited soon.
Ministry sources said it started fighting the coronavirus situation with a shortage of around 50,000 physicians, nurses, medical technicians and other health workers across the country.
As many as 11,364 posts of doctors were vacant at government hospitals in Bangladesh, with the highest of 3,185 in Dhaka district, Health Minister Zahid Maleque informed Parliament on November 16 last. Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) busted irregularities, including shady business of issuing fake Covid-19 certificates by Regent Hospital, while it Chairman Shahed Karim was arrested.
Some other hospitals, including JKG Health Care, were also found issuing fake coronavirus test reports.
The irregularities in supplying personal protective equipment, including N95 mask, by a company favoured allegedly by some officials of the ministry and the DGHS also came to the surface.
The involvement of officials in the scams led to major changes in the DGHS, including the removal of its director general, and the transfer of some high officials of the ministry.
The DGHS blacklisted a total of 14 contractors on charges of corruption, fraudulence and conspiracy as per the recommendations of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). It filed three cases against three blacklisted contractors over amassing illegal wealth worth around Tk 70 million.
“There were mismanagement and corruption in the country’s health sector. That’s why people lost their confidence in the healthcare services and they’re now opting to stay at home,” said public health expert Prof Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed.