Among the 27 government hospitals with central oxygen lines, only nine have received budget allocation for oxygen supply at a time when Covid-19 patients are scrambling for respiratory supportive measures.
Many Covid-19 patients are undergoing treatment at the Kuwait-Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital, Kurmitola General Hospital and Mugda Medical College and Hospital – three flagship medical facilities for coronavirus patients in the capital.
Though the hospitals have central oxygen supply, there is no allocation for oxygen in the national budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The Satkhira 250-bed District Hospital is the lone public medical facility in Khulna division with central oxygen supply. But, like it, no district headquarter hospital is on the oxygen allocation list in the new budget.
Additional Secretary (Budget) to the Health Service Division Rashada Akhtar said the hospitals who asked for oxygen supply funds got the budget allocation.
"Rest of the public hospitals will be able to avail the fund for oxygen if they send demand letters," she added.
Budget allocation analysis of the division shows oxygen supply got Tk23.35 crore in the 2020-21 fiscal year. The allocation was Tk8.24 crore for seven hospitals in the main budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year. However, in the revised budget of the recently concluded fiscal year, five hospitals got Tk7.24 crore for oxygen.
Though the health sector got a shot in the arm in the new budget with a Tk22,883.86 crore allocation, which is Tk4,272 crore more than the previous year, the lion's share of it will be spent for salaries, other payments and administrative expenditure.
For instance, Tk148 crore has been allocated for car fuel of health officials in the current budget, while medicines for patients will cost the government only Tk490 crore. In the new budget, medical and surgical equipment purchase gets only Tk28 crore more than the revised budget of the previous year.
On condition of anonymity, a top Health Service Division official said the district hospitals should have oxygen supply ensured as the government ordered the healthcare facilities to admit both Covid-19 positive and other patients.
"The block allocation of Tk10,000 crore in the new budget will meet the extra expenses, including oxygen for coronavirus patients. The hospitals will get their bills once they send letters of demand," the official said.
Doctors said most of the Covid-19 patients suffer from flu-like symptoms while only a few require respiratory supportive measures like ventilators, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and oxygen supply through high-flow nasal cannula.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak in the country in last March, many alleged that they lost their dearest ones as they could not manage to admit patients to a medical facility with high-pressure oxygen supply.
Amid the oxygen supply crunch, many bought oxygen cylinders at a high price and stocked those at home beforehand.
On July 2, banker Masum Ahmed was desperately looking for an oxygen cylinder for his ailing father-in-law. After failing to manage any, he admitted the elderly man to Kurmitola General Hospital, and the patient breathed his last just hours after admission.
"I could not promptly manage a cylinder. At the hospital, there was no ICU bed available either. The man died almost without any treatment," Masum told The Business Standard.
Dr Mazharul Haque, a World Health Organization doctor in Bangladesh, said it is necessary to develop a central oxygen storage system at medical college hospitals and district level medical facilities.
"Hospitals that already have central oxygen supply lines must get funds immediately from the block allocation," he added.
The government moved to set up central oxygen lines at public hospitals following the coronavirus outbreak and five hospitals have gotten the new lines so far. Oxygen supply lines are being installed in 45 more hospitals, and the work is likely to end within this month.
However, the budget did not separately allocate funds for the new oxygen line installation.
Mohammad Aminur Rahman, chief technical manager to the National Electro Medical Equipment Maintenance, Workshop, and Training Center, said they have installed oxygen lines at three hospitals since the virus outbreak.
Aminur said installation of oxygen lines is currently going on at 23 hospitals. They will begin work at 22 other medical facilities next week.