The sun was beating down on them yesterday afternoon as they were waiting helplessly in front of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research to get sexagenarian Golam Moula tested for Coronavirus.
The patient with fever and serious breathing problem was lying on a stretcher inside an ambulance, his chest heaving with each breath he tried to take. His family members looked weary when they were told to take the patient to Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital.
Golam had a long history of respiratory problem, said his attendants. But doctors at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College & Hospital had refused to listen to them and treat him when he was taken there.
Panicked, they were desperate to get the coronavirus test done as soon as possible to have treatment started.
But the guard at the IEDCR repeatedly asked them not to take the stretcher out of the ambulance because the institute does not collect samples from patients who show up there.
Instead, Golam should be admitted to the Kuwait Bangladesh Hospital, one of the four facilities that have been treating confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients, the guard said, adding that the designated hospital would take necessary steps.
Scores of patients like Golam have been turning up at the IEDCR for over a week after they are denied treatment at private and public hospitals over the suspicion of COVID-19 infection, the guard said.
Fever and cough are some of the coronavirus symptoms that even other patients with impaired immune system might suffer from. But doctors and nurses are associating anyone with the highly infectious disease if they have high temperature and cough.
Amid such a situation, a number of people reported deaths of their loved ones without treatment through the social media.
Khalid Rahman, a Dhaka University Student, said he lost his mother on Friday.
He took to Facebook to vent his frustration and said his mother with a severe chest and stomach ache had been turned away by a private hospital in the capital because she had breathing problem that was actually associated with asthma.
Khalid rushed to three public hospitals, including two facilities given the responsibility to treat coronavirus patients. None of those got her admitted and finally she died of cardiac arrest Friday morning.
The Business Standard (TBS), however, could not independently verify the authenticity of the event.
Another young patient, 15-year-old Abu Raihan with throat pain was taken to Kurmitola General Hospital this morning but doctors told his uncle Enamul Haque that the hospital had stopped admitting patients with complaints relating to ear, nose and throat.
After a long wait, the boy was admitted to the ENT department of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital in the afternoon.
Talking to oncologists, child specialists and officials of the Directorate General of Health Services, TBS has learnt that no strategy was in place as of yesterday to manage critically ill patients who might have fever due to their health conditions and not from coronavirus.
"We have to make a decision to provide care to such patients," said AKM Akhtaruzzaman, chairman of intensive care medicine department at the BSMMU.
The hospital has set up a separate corner to provide treatment for patients with fever and cough. But if the condition is severe, it refers patients to one of the four facilities treating coronavirus patients.
"The fear of coronavirus would threaten lives of many patients if they do not get healthcare," said Shafi Ahmed, director of Dhaka Shishu Hospital.
Many children in this season come to the hospital with flu, cough and fever. The authorities have conducted an orientation programme involving eight doctors and 16 nurses so that they can provide treatment to patients at the outdoor unit.
Since the hospital has not received any personal protective equipment, they were provided with masks, gloves and one-time-use surgical gowns to treat their patients.
But the hospital still does not have any plan of action to treat children with severe respiratory issues.
"We are thinking of segregating children with respiratory problems at the outdoor facility so that if they are infected with coronavirus, it would not spread to others," Shafi said. "Turning away children over suspicion of COVID-19 infection would be an inhumane act."
Oncologists at the BSMMU throughout yesterday discussed the issue but could not reach a solution, said a doctor requesting anonymity.
The national guideline for treating coronavirus infection should be amended to incorporate the management of critical patients showing similar symptoms of coronavirus, he said.
Unless it is done, more patients will die without coronavirus than those infected with the novel virus, he added.
DGHS Director (Hospital) Aminul Hasan said the authorities would review the situation and decide on the next course of action.
The father of a residential doctor of the BSMMU, Saifun Nahar Sumi died a couple of days back because he had been kept waiting for the result of COVID-19 test before treatment. By the time, his daughter learnt on March 17 that her father was negative, he had died.
Meanwhile, at a press conference on March 18, IEDCR Director Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora said hospitals were refusing to admit patients showing coronavirus symptoms and this might emerge as a bigger challenge in the days to come.
"At present, our biggest challenge is to arrange treatment of patients in hospitals...we are facing this problem not only in public hospitals but also in private facilities," she said.
The government has to instruct all hospitals immediately that they should not turn away any patient suspected of coronavirus infection, said Prof Muzaherul Huq, former adviser of WHO's Southeast Asia region.