Is it possible for the government to fight the deadly coronavirus with only 29 intensive care beds in its arsenal? It seems quite impossible when the country has a large population.
Critical coronavirus patients require ICU support. But a mere 29 ICU beds have been prepared at Dhaka's five hospitals to combat the pandemic, according to the health directorate.
There are 10 such beds in Bangladesh Kuwait Friendship Hospital, eight in Sheikh Russel Gastro Liver Hospital, three in Uttara Regent Hospital, three in Mirpur Regent Hospital and five in Sajeda Foundation Hospital.
There is no ICU bed in any hospital outside Dhaka.
Bangladesh Kuwait Friendship Hospital is the lone institution responsible for treating coronavirus-infected patients.
Coronavirus patients are being quarantined and treated in the 200-bed hospital. There are only five dialysis beds kept ready in the hospital for such patients, who could be suffering from kidney diseases too.
Experts say elderly people infected with coronavirus need ICU support the most. The number of older persons in the country is over 80 lakh.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, former adviser to World Health Organisation's Southeast Asia region, told The Business Standard the current trend of deaths from coronavirus in the country shows the casualty rate with respect to senior citizens is 100 percent. So far, all the three deaths have been of older persons.
Elderly people with multiple comorbid conditions such as diabetics and hypertension are very vulnerable to coronavirus infection, he added.
The country has 1,285 ICU beds which cannot be used for treating coronavirus patients. Keeping an infected patient in such beds will put other patients under risk of infection.
Recently, the ICU unit in the capital's Delta Hospital was closed down following the death of a coronavirus patient. Now there is a risk of the virus being transmitted to other patients kept in ICU.
Prof Nazrul Islam, virologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said the treatment of coronavirus patients has to be at designated hospitals with no other patient being allowed there.
There have to be separate ICU facilities for corona patients, he added.
Prof Muzaherul Huq said the number of ICU beds are inadequate compared to the country's population and senior citizens. "We have to make a projection on predictability considering the type of patients and deaths. And based on it, we have to keep ICU beds ready without any delay."
Some 15 beds in two hospitals in Chattogram have been prepared for treating patients infected with the virus. But the hospitals do not have any ICU unit.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a professor at the medicine department of Chattogram Medical College and Hospital said, "A corona patient's condition may turn critical anytime. Then will come the necessity of an ICU. But the hospital has been chosen for treatment without having an ICU facility. This in no way can be called adequate preparation."
Dr Jahidur Rahman, assistant professor at the virology department of Shaheed Suhrawardy Hospital, said the number of patients is small at present. So, not all of them need ICU facilities. But when the number of patients surges within a few days, many will need intensive care beds."
On March 21, Health Minister Zahed Maleque said 100 intensive care beds would be installed to tackle the coronavirus situation. Gradually, a total of 400 new ICU beds would be set up.
But the minister could not say when the beds would be installed.
Stress on ensuring adequate number of ventilators
Physicians have urged that an adequate number of ventilators be made available for coronavirus patients.
Coronavirus attacks people's lungs, in some cases impeding their ability to breathe as they develop pneumonia. Ventilators, which deliver air to the lungs through a tube placed in the windpipe, are crucial to keep these patients alive.
Prof Muzaherul Huq said there has to be scientific ventilators in the hospitals. All patients do not need to be shifted to ICU beds. Some patients' breathing problems can be attended to with ventilators. Even young patients may need them.
Officials at the health directorate could not say if there are enough ventilators at the hospitals selected for treating corona patients.