The facts disclosed by a latest survey are chilling and exposes the ill-equipped state of our frontline fighters—doctors and healthcare workers--in the battle against the lethal coronavirus, that has already overwhelmed the healthcare system of advanced countries.
The survey released on Saturday said as many as 25 percent of doctors and nurses and around 60 percent of the support staff engaged in treating coronavirus patients are yet to receive personal protective equipment (PPE). The more shocking thing is that those who have the equipment are sceptical about its effectiveness because of its low quality, as they allege the protective gears are not of the WHO standard.
Their concern is serious and should not be overlooked and suppressed. They are aware of the reality on the ground. According to Bangladesh Medical Association, at least 170 doctors were infected with the lethal virus and one among them has died. In addition, around 100 nurses and other medical staffs were also infected, and many more frontline fighters are at risk in the war against the coronavirus pandemic.
Thanks to global media we are aware of the struggle the health workers went through in advanced countries such as UK and Spain after a large-scale outbreak of the virus. Thousands of health workers have been infected in the USA, Italy, Spain, UK and other countries, and a few hundred succumbed to their infections. This may have aggravated the worry and fear among our healthcare workers about a large-scale virus outbreak, if such happens in our country.
At some Spanish hospitals, doctors and nurses were forced to resort to taping garbage sacks on to their arms to shield themselves as they have run out of disposable coats, while working to save an avalanche of patients fighting for breath, reported Bloomberg on March 21.
The plastic glasses they wear were of such poor quality that medics could barely see through them, so they found the pulses and veins of coronavirus patients by touching them.
Newspapers in UK published shocking photographs in March of nurses wearing clinical waste bags on their hands, feet and head as emergency rooms are filled up with sick patients.
Three nurses, who were forced to wear bin bags for protective clothing while treating coronavirus patients tested positive in early April.
Hospitals in Spain and UK have been overwhelmed by the scale of admissions but more importantly the speed. They were not prepared to face the sudden outbreak that exhausted their healthcare system.
Our situation should have been different as our health authorities had some time to prepare to combat the outbreak. But our health authorities wasted time through negligence and furthermore mislead us.
Take one of the statements made by our health minister.
At an inter-ministerial meeting on January 27 this year, our Health Minister Zahid Maleque assured countrymen that there was nothing to worry about as no Covid-19 patient had been detected in Bangladesh till then. He made the assurance when coronavirus was ravaging China and had already affected Japan and South Korea.
"We are working so that the virus cannot enter Bangladesh," he had said, adding "The government is fully ready to face the situation even if the virus infects anyone."
But it did not take much time for the minister's assurance to be proved as a mere rhetoric.
After the first detection of three coronavirus patients on March 8, doctors and health workers in the capital and outside of Dhaka immediately decried the shortage of protective gears. The situation improved to some extent later, but the Brac survey has come up with shocking facts exposing the ill-preparedness.
The fight for our frontline worriers is growing tougher day by day. This is because of the negligence and inefficiency of the administration to ensure quarantine of the returnees from affected countries, our failure to stop international air flights immediately after detection of cases; the returnees went home, resulting in community transmission, which is what we are now facing.
We are reporting new hotspots — at first Dhaka, then Narayanganj, followed by Gazipur, Narsingdi and Kishorganj. Now, coronavirus patients have been detected in more than 50 out of 64 districts.
This means our collective negligence and inefficiency has allowed the deadly virus to spread almost to the entire country. The uncontrolled spread of the virus has put lives of people at risk, increasing the burden on doctors, nurses and other healthcare staffs treating them.
The alarming thing is that we do not know the real picture of infections due to our low testing capacity. So, we also do not know who are carrying the virus and who are not. Even, people have started concealing information of being infected.
Take two cases. One virus infected patient got admitted to Ibrahim Cardiac Hospital & Research Institute last week with cardiac complaints, hiding information that he was infected with Covid-19. When the authorities found out that the patient was infected with coronavirus, they closed a Coronary Care Unit (CCU) and sent the doctors and nurses, who primarily treated the patient, on quarantine.
In another case, as many as 11 doctors, nurses and other health service providers from Sir Salimullah Medical College and Mitford Hospital tested positive for Covid-19 as the relatives of a patient hid information about his being infected with the virus.
Regardless to the situation, doctors, nurses and other healthcare staffs are trying their best to treat Covid-19 patients and people with other health complications. They did not stop the fight citing their poor equipment.
Despite having a universal healthcare system the hospitals in UK have been exhausted by the huge number of patients.
Doctors and nurses are still facing a shortage of protective equipment. They have vented their anger. The UK government has been facing a volley of criticism. Several healthcare staffs have lost their lives to the virus. Doctors recently told their medical association that they were being "thrown to the wolves" and should not be forced to choose between continuing to work or keeping themselves and their families safe.
The UK government is desperately trying to provide the frontline fighters with protective gears without gagging their voices.
Our health authorities should keep in mind that healthcare workers rely on personal protective equipment to protect themselves and their patients from being infected and infecting others.
The authorities must provide our frontline warriors with all sort of protective equipment without any excuse or without making any effort to suppress their voices from reaching the mass media.
We cannot through them to the wolves in this dire situation. They must be well-equipped. If they fail, we will have to go down in defeat.