A number of private hospitals and clinics in Dhaka on Monday said coronavirus treatment at their facilities was impossible and they were reluctant to take the cases as they lacked facilities in treating the virus.
Referring to the safety of other patients and a lack of training of medical personnel, the hospital authorities said novel coronavirus or Covid-19 treatment at private hospitals was too risky. The claims came just a day after Bangladesh reported its maiden coronavirus cases.
"We cannot open an isolation unit at our hospital as it has a central ventilation system," said Dr Shagufa Anwar, chief of Communication and Business Development of United Hospital.
Shagufa said that they have cancer, kidney dialysis and cardiac patients who have low immunity. Coronavirus treatment at their hospital is not possible for the sake of current patients.
Though United Hospital has a negative pressure room — a major feature for an isolation unit — she claimed that their infrastructure does not allow for treating Covid-19 cases at the hospital.
Isolation units at medical facilities must include features like a negative pressure room, a dedicated bathroom for each suspected patient and a separate ICU for the quarantine unit, virologists said.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare earlier asked both public and private hospitals to prepare isolation units to tackle the spread of Covid-19. Justifying the order to private medical facilities, the ministry said many affluent people prefer being treated at private clinics.
Last year, private clinics joined the government effort in combating the dengue outbreak. However, health experts and virologists said Covid-19 treatment is very different from mosquito-borne dengue. Frontline medical personnel will require special training and adequate personal protection equipment.
Though the government undertook a training programme for public hospital doctors and nurses, no such initiative was arranged for physicians at private clinics.
"Only the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) has Covid-19 detection facilities in the country. How could we treat the patients if we cannot even diagnose the disease?" United Hospital's Dr Shagufa Anwar said.
She said that United Hospital will only refer the patients to the IEDCR. The patient will take treatment at government facilities if tested positive.
Echoing the other hospitals, Health and Hope Hospital Chairman Lelin Chowdhury commented that coronavirus patients should not be treated at private clinics.
"No private hospital has the required virus testing kit, trained medical personnel or foolproof safety measures. A single coronavirus case at any private hospital will simply hit the panic button – prompting massive chaos," he explained.
"Therefore, we want everything, including isolation and quarantine, at government medical facilities," Lelin Chowdhury added.
Square Hospitals Limited, another well-known private hospital in Dhaka's Panthapath area, said it neither has the facilities to treat Covid-19, nor any future plan to deal with such cases.
The Customer Care Officer of the hospital, Golam Reza said they are only working on awareness- building about the spread of Covid-19.
"Private clinics lack major features for coronavirus treatment like an isolation unit, the teamwork of frontline physicians and a separate intensive care unit," said Professor Dr Saif Ullah Munshi, virology department head at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).
Apart from inadequate infrastructure, Dr Munshi held other factors like the fear of probable financial loss and the safety of other patients as the causes for the reluctance of the private hospitals in taking in Covid-19 patients.
Government hospitals face criticism over preparedness
The 200-bed Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital has been prepared for coronavirus cases. Though the hospital has a separate ICU and dialysis facility at its isolation unit the hospital does not have an uninterrupted oxygen supply, according to a source unwilling to be identified.
The 10-bed isolation unit at the Infectious Diseases Hospital also does not meet the criteria, according to experts as there are only two dedicated toilets for the patients. According to international standards, each patient under isolation should have a separate room and bathroom.
However, Director General for health services Prof Abul Kalam Azad on Monday said that the government has made adequate preparations to handle the spread of Covid-19.
"We have met with public and private hospitals. The situation is not serious enough to open thousands of beds at hospitals now," he told a press briefing.
Claiming the government is closely monitoring the situation, Health Minister Zahid Maleque, at another press conference, said private hospitals have been instructed to open isolation units.
Virologists and doctors have recommended that if a patient tests positive for Covid-19, the patient should be placed in an international standard isolation unit to contain the infection.
Isolation units at medical facilities must include features like a negative pressure room, a dedicated bathroom for each suspected patient and a separate ICU for the quarantine unit, they said.
"Any flaw in the preparations can turn the whole preparation useless," said Professor Md Nazrul Islam, former vice-chancellor of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
Three sent to hospital from Dhaka airport
Three passengers, who arrived at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on Monday with fever and breathing complications, were sent to the hospital.
Among the three Bangladeshis, two came from Italy and one from Singapore.
Dhaka airport health office said that the passengers arrived in Dhaka by Qatar Airways, Emirates and Singapore Airlines.
The passengers returning from Italy had breathing trouble while the passenger from Singapore had been suffering from fever, said the airport health officer Shahriar Sajjad.
"As the symptoms are very much similar to coronavirus, we have sent them to Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital," he added.
Coronavirus is spreading fast in Italy, and a Bangladeshi was reported to be infected with the virus there. Five Bangladeshis in Singapore also tested positive with Covid-19 in February.
Dhaka airport introduced health screening of the incoming passengers as coronavirus spread in Wuhan in China three months ago. The airport authorities were sending suspect passengers to hospitals.
Two Bangladeshis infected in UAE
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday said two Bangladeshis have been infected with Covid-19.
The UAE in a statement said, the latest cases were discovered following an "active and continuous investigation" and the testing of those who came in contact with previously confirmed infected individuals who were quarantined.
Earlier on February, one Bangladeshi national living in the UAE was diagnosed with Covid-19.