Zulfikar Ali of Dhaka's Keraniganj has been suffering from cardiac issues for 10 months.
On April 2, he was scheduled to undergo myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI) – a non-invasive imaging test that shows blood flow through the heart muscle Zulfikar Ali was unable to have the test done at that time due to a re-agent crisis.
"Please be patient and have faith in Allah," the doctor told Zulfikar.
Since then, Zulfikar has been passing his days with faith in the Almighty. As the MPI has not been done yet, he does not know if he will have an open heart surgery or coronary stents in the arteries.
As much as coronavirus infections have escalated in the country, patients have avoiding hospitals out of fear. Many patients have also suffered a great deal in receiving treatment. Hence, heart patients like Zulfikar Ali have been excluded from treatment during the pandemic.
Zulfikar Ali also suffers from diabetes and breathing ailments. Being a high-risk patient, he was afraid to go to the hospital at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. He is still afraid.
Even after the lockdown was lifted, though everything was reopened, he still did not go to the hospital. The longer the pandemic continues, the longer it is taking to begin Zulfikar's treatment.
Now Zulfikar has to depend on medications to keep his heart running. He has to take medicine worth Tk10,000 every month. He suffers from various health problems, including chest pain, restlessness and he also experiences difficulty in walking.
Zulfikar told The Business Standard that spending such an amount on medicine every month is proving to be a financial strain. Had the operation been done by now, the financial cost, as well as the physical suffering and mental stress, would have reduced.
Many patients, apart from Covid-19-infected ones, have begun going to the hospital as the virus infection rate is currently declining in the country.
However, the large inflow of patients is leading to a breach in hospitals' hygiene protocols, posing an increased risk of infection. Therefore, Zulfikar Ali is still unsure.
He told The Business Standard that undergoing an open-heart surgery or having a ring inserted in his arteries would marginally reduce his physical pain. Since the treatment has still not started, there is also a risk of a sudden bout of illness.
"But the panic I had a few months ago about getting infected at the hospital remains, because a second wave of the virus is still a possibility. Yet, I am preparing for the operation."
Another cardiac patient, businessman Aslam Dhaly (65) from Munshiganj, also had to stay home during the days of the pandemic.
He had a heart attack in June 2019. Between June 2019 and January this year, he has been getting regular check-ups at the doctor. However, he has not seen a doctor since April due to the pandemic.
Aslam Dhaly has suffered from chest pain several times during this period. However, his family members did not take him to the hospital in fear of coronavirus infection.
Aslam Dhaly's son Arafat Munna told The Business Standard that his father experiences sudden bouts of chest pain. "We are always scared for him. However, we could not take him to the doctor due to the fear of a possible virus infection."
During the Covid-19 outbreak, medicine was Aslam's only hope. But his family members are now planning to finally consult a doctor.
Be kind to heart patients during pandemic
According to doctors, people are not going to the hospital in fear of the virus, which is causing more cardiac damage. Many are even dying at home with chest pains during the pandemic.
Experts call on all to be kind to cardiac patients during this critical period.
Heart patients with Covid-19 also need to be treated at cardiac hospitals. They need to continue treatment as prescribed by doctors, quit smoking completely and follow hygiene rules
National Prof Brigadier (retd) Abdul Malik, the founder and president of the National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh, said the risk for heart patients is much higher if they contract the virus.
"So, they have to be careful. Heart patients need to be hospitalised if they are infected with the virus. Heart patients with Covid-19 also need to be treated at cardiac hospitals. They need to continue treatment as prescribed by doctors, quit smoking completely and follow hygiene rules."
Abdul Malik also said heart disease is on the rise in the country due to a number of factors, including lifestyle change – unhealthy diet, smoking, physical inactivity. People need to be aware of these things because once they catch it, the disease becomes chronic.
"The patient may die, and if he survives, he will have to live with the disease for the rest of his life. This is a burden. In addition, treating heart diseases is very expensive."
The patient may die, and if he survives, he will have to live with the disease for the rest of his life. This is a burden. In addition, treating heart diseases is very expensive
Due to the coronavirus, people need to follow hygiene guidelines and be more aware of heart patients, he suggested, emphasising awareness and prevention against cardiovascular diseases and coronavirus.
According to World Health Organisation's Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) country profiles 2018, heart disease as an NCD kills the most number of people (30% or 2.72 lakh) in Bangladesh annually.
World Heart Day is commemorated on September 29 every year to boost awareness on heart disease prevention.
Today is World Heart Day. This year's theme is "Use heart to beat cardiovascular disease".