Hospitals in Bangladesh lack facilities to isolate coronavirus patients and doctors have not been provided with protective gear, senior health and medical officials said Wednesday, acknowledging that some people seeking testing and treatment for suspected COVID-19 symptoms had been turned away.
Meanwhile, authorities confirmed the country’s first death and four new infections for a total of 14 confirmed cases.
“We have come to know that the patients are moving from one hospital to another for treatment. The doctors are not receiving them because they are considering the safety of other patients,” Dr. Meerjady Sabrina Flora, a senior Health Ministry official, told BenarNews.
“There are many types of patients in a hospital. The doctors think if the coronavirus patients are admitted without ensuring properly designated facilities, the virus may infect other patients. This is the problem for treating coronavirus patients in Bangladesh,” she said.
Flora, director of the Ministry of Health’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said most hospitals had no designated facilities to treat COVID-19 patients.
“We have been in discussion with doctors regarding the treatment of the coronavirus patients. We are trying to devise a way to encourage doctors to treat them,” she said.
“I admit that this is a challenge for us,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges is to ensure that the patients will get treatment.”
Dr. Kanak Kanti Barua, the vice chancellor of the Bangladesh’s only medical university, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, agreed that some doctors were not treating the suspected COVID-19 patients.
“If the personal protection of doctors is not ensured, why would they treat coronavirus patients? I think the government should ensure an adequate supply of personal protective gear for physicians,” he said. “But what I can say is: if any doctor refuses a patient for a particular disease, that is unfair.”
Flora said Bangladesh has received protective gear donated by the World Health Organization and China.
She confirmed that Bangladesh has seen four new COVID-19 cases, bringing the number to 14. The IEDCR has taken samples from 341 people.
“With heavy heart I am declaring the first death caused by the corona virus today. We have lost a person who is around 70 years old and had many medical issues, including heart and kidney disease, damaged lungs, diabetes and high blood pressure” she told reporters.
The new cases – three males and a female – are in their 20s to 50s, according to Flora. One has a relative who has been treated for COVID-19 while two came from Italy and one from Kuwait.
Number of cases could be higher
A.F.M. Ruhal Haque, a former health minister and chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, said he believes the IEDCR report of 14 cases based on the number of tests is accurate.
“But I think the real number of COVID-19 cases could be much higher [if more tests are carried out],” he told BenarNews.
“For instance, nearly 100,000 people returned to Bangladesh from various countries where COVID-19 infections have been reported. Most of the expatriate returnees have been moving outside, so, I am really worried about the coronavirus situation in Bangladesh,” he said.
He said Bangladesh cannot follow South Korea’s protocol and test every returnee.
“We have limited capacity. So, we are in a danger,” Haque said.
On Wednesday, a 60-year-old Bangladeshi man and his wife traveled to the IEDCR hoping to persuade doctors to take his blood sample because he had been suffering from fever and suffocation since he came into contact with a relative who returned from Italy.
“I have visited all hospitals in Dhaka to confirm whether I have coronavirus. But none of the hospitals tested me,” he told BenarNews.
“Some hospitals did not allow me in. The private hospitals behaved in the same manner,” said the man, identifying himself as just Alam.
“Where will I go? Will we die without treatment even though we have so many doctors,” he asked.
Neighboring West Bengal has confirmed its first COVID-19 case.
An 18-year-old man who recently returned from London tested positive on Tuesday night, according to Ajay Chakraborty, West Bengal’s director of health services. After returning, the man went to the state secretariat building where his mother works as an officer. Because she met with Home Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay, the government instructed him to self-quarantine.
Paritosh Kanti Paul in Kolkata contributed to this report.