Everyone knows about the rush to buy equipment in government hospitals. Once such emergency and expensive equipment go out of order, they are no longer repaired. As a result, most government hospitals do not even have arrangements to conduct general tests. Patients are forced to undergo tests at private hospitals and clinics, which means coughing up more money to cope with bills related to the tests.
Abandoning the out-of-order equipment, officials of the health ministry and health directorate rush to buy new equipment, with allegations of personal gain involved in the process. Making matters easier for them, the National Electro-Medical Equipment Maintenance Workshop and Training Centre (NEMEMW and TC), an organisation set up for the repair of medical equipment in government hospitals, has remained crippled for three decades.
Following the detection of the country's first coronavirus cases in March, the importance of NEMEMW and TC has suddenly revived for the health ministry.
Since the detection of the first coronavirus cases in the country, the ministry has been issuing instructions on the repair and installation of ICU equipment in different hospitals and installation of ICU beds, ventilators, medical gas systems, repair of important but ineffective equipment, and setting up of liquid oxygen tanks in hospitals. However, due to a manpower crisis, it is becoming impossible to implement such instructions in time.
According to NEMEMW and TC officials, at the time of its establishment in 1983, the organisation had a manpower of 83 people. In the financial year 1993-94, the number of personnel was increased by 12 persons. Seven of the posts are now vacant. In other words, the current manpower strength of the organisation is 88 people. Of them, only 15 are engineers. They also train nurses and technicians in different hospitals.
With this manpower, the organisation is repairing the equipment of 17 government medical college hospitals, 15 specialised hospitals, 61 district hospitals and 517 upazila health complexes, TB hospitals and mother and child hospitals.
Since it does not have its own vehicles, the organisation hires microbuses and sends technical manpower and spare parts with stickers reading, "Used to dealingwith Covid-19". These employees repair equipment at various hospitals, set up medical gas systems or oxygen and compressed air plant and install and operate ventilators in Covid-19 ICUs.
Since the coronavirus outbreak in the country, 15 ICUs and 147 ICU beds have been set up in 12 Covid-19 dedicated hospitals in the country, including Dhaka.
On April 12, while it was on its way from Dhaka to Shaheed Shamsuddin Ahmed Hospital in Sylhet, a rented microbus of NEMEMW and TC fell victim to a robbery in Madhabpur area of Habiganj. The robbers snatched away six mobiles and a bag containing spare parts of the repair team,beating them up and leaving them.
Md Aminur Rahman, chief technical manager of NEMEMW and TC, wrote a letter to the secretary of the health services department on May 19, a copy of which is with The Business Standard. In the letter, he said in 36 years, the demand for repair of medical equipment had multiplied but the manpower had not been increased.
With the existing manpower and capacity, it is not possible to provide the desired services in government hospitals and health institutions. This is disrupting medical services in government hospitals. The situation has become more complicated in the Covid-19 situation.
In the letter, he urged the authorities to urgently appoint 100 graduate biomedical engineers (9th grade) and 735 electro-medical diploma engineers (10th grade) through the Public Service Commission with preliminary tests or viva voce only. It will cost around Tk32 crore, but many benefits can accrue from it.
In a report sent to the health ministry, Md Aminur Rahman said maintenance and repair work of medical equipment was not going well due to an acute technical manpower crisis. If the expected manpower is available, the prescribed lifespan of the medical equipment of the government hospitals can be ensured. This will ensure uninterrupted and quality medical care for patients coming to the hospitals. On the other hand, the government will not have to spend a lot of money in buying new equipment. This will save the government a large amount of money.
He said if the medical equipment is faultless and running all the time, patients will get timely medical services. This will save them money. People's confidence in the government health system will increase. As a result, the number of patients going abroad for treatment by spending a large amount of money will drop.
Md Aminur Rahman, chief technical manager of NEMEMW and TC, told The Business Standard that it was well-nigh impossible to repair thousands of hospital equipment with just 15 engineers. As a result, the appointment of 735 new technical staff has been sought. No decision has, however, been taken on the matter.