Sahar Tasnim Pihu, a seven-year-old living in Dhaka with her family, contracted a high fever on April 31. After waiting for four days, Pihu's parents called the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) hotline and asked for a Covid-19 test.
The IEDCR prescribed some medicines for Pihu, and told the family that it would take four to five days to collect the sample. Another four days passed, but no one from the IEDCR contacted Pihu's family for a test.
Pihu's parents wanted to admit her to a hospital, but her ordeal was far from over. She just had a fever, and suffered from no other symptoms such as shortness of breath, aches and pains, dry cough, or diarrhoea.
There have been widespread complaints from across the country that many hospitals are refusing to admit patients over suspicions that they might have Covid-19, which is a violation of government directives.
On May 8, Pihu was diagnosed with typhoid at the Modern Diagnostic Centre. A day later, Pihu's family took her to Square Hospital, and then Sirajul Islam Medical College & Hospital, but both claimed that they were not admitting patients with fever.
She was later taken to the Dhaka Shishu Hospital, but the facility asked that the little girl be admitted to the Covid-19 isolation unit, despite her family showing her typhoid test report.
Pihu waited for over an hour to get a Covid-19 test there, but to no avail. She then headed for the Nibedita Shisu Hospital in Dhanmondi, but the facility did not have a child specialist, so the girl returned home.
After seven days of medication and injections administered by a hired medical professional from the Central Hospital, Pihu's condition improved. However, she is one of the lucky ones who survived the ordeal.
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and the Health Ministry issued a number of orders in the past two months in a bid to secure treatment facilities for suspected Covid-19 patients, non-Covid-19 patients and Covid-19 patients.
On April 30, the DGHS issued an order to ensure healthcare for all critical patients.
According to the order, if a hospital suspects that a patient is infected with the novel coronavirus, and if it is not possible for the hospital to admit that patient, an official concerned should call an Integrated Control Room for Covid-19 Response of the DGHS.
The control room will then take the necessary steps for hospitalising the patient. However, the implementation of that order is currently non-existent at many hospitals. Some facilities are also demanding certificates from patients proving they are Covid-19-free.
Since the novel coronavirus began spreading, many are dying without treatment across the country after hospitals have refused to admit them over concerns that they might be infected with the novel coronavirus.
One of them is Abdul Mannan, who was the adviser to the Teri Bazaar Traders' Association in Chattogram. He suddenly began suffering from shortness of breath on June 3.
Mannan was taken to the Parkview Hospital and then to the Doctors Hospital in the port city, but both facilities refused to admit him over suspicions that he was a Covid-19 patient.
He passed away a few hours later at his home without treatment.
Meanwhile, Iqbal Hossain Khoka – a businessman in Sylhet – began feeling chest pain in the morning of June 5. When the Al Haramain Hospital refused to admit him for treatment, he went to North East Hospital, which also turned him away claiming that there were no free beds.
He was then taken to the Sahid Shamsuddin Ahmed Hospital – a facility dedicated to Covid-19 patients. However, Khoka did not receive any treatment there.
The next morning, he was taken to the Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital, where the doctor on duty declared him dead on arrival.
Patients who are suffering from serious medical conditions – such as heart, kidney and cancer-related issues – especially, are being victimised, as they regularly suffer from asthma, fevers and colds.
Disregard for government orders
On May 12, the Health Ministry issued a notice directing private hospitals to provide healthcare for non-Covid-19 patients.
The notice pointed out that patients have been facing various issues while trying to get treatment at different hospitals since the novel coronavirus began spreading.
The ministry also held meetings with the Bangladesh Private Clinic and Diagnostic Owners Association to ensure treatment for non-Covid-19 patients. Notifications have also been published in the media in this regard.
The notice further stated that every private hospital should have separate treatment facilities for suspected Covid-19 patients and they must not refuse anyone seeking emergency treatment.
Refusal to follow these instructions could result in the cancellation of a hospital's license, read the ministry's notice.
On May 24, the government issued another order directing all public and private hospitals across the country to treat Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients.
The notice added that all eligible hospitals must make separate arrangements for treating Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients. However, the reality is very different at many hospitals throughout Bangladesh.
'No one is thinking about patients'
Commenting on the issue, former pro vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and public health expert Rashid-e-Mahbub said, "Can everything be solved just by issuing orders? No one is thinking about the patients."
"The government must come forward to ensure treatment facilities for the patients. As there is a pandemic going on, the government must requisition the private hospitals. It must take steps to secure healthcare for patients at every hospital, instead of thinking about Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients," he added.
Rashid-e-Mahbub continued, "People are panicking after not being able to get treatment at hospitals. So, they are buying oxygen cylinders for their homes. This is causing a shortage of oxygen at hospitals. The government must step in to solve these healthcare issues."
Dr Ayesha Akhter, assistant director of Health Emergency Operations Centre and the Control Room under the DGHS, "Initially, a few hospitals were dedicated to the treatment of Covid-19 patients.
"However, now, all hospitals have been directed to treat both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients. There is no reason for these facilities not to admit a patient," she said.
According to the Chattogram Civil Surgeon Office, the port city has 90 private hospitals and those facilities have 4,157 beds. So far, the number of novel coronavirus patients there has reached around 3,500.
However, no private hospital in Chattogram has begun treating Covid-19 patients. The government has requisitioned the Imperial Hospital and the Bangabandhu Memorial Hospital for providing healthcare to Covid-19 patients, but the treatment process has not started as of Sunday.
In Chattogram, the last hope of novel coronavirus patients is the 360 dedicated beds for Covid-19 patients in government hospitals.
Chattogram Civil Surgeon Dr Sheikh Fazle Rabbi said, "We have received information about hospitals refusing to admit and treat many patients. The administration has formed a committee and it is working to ensure treatment for patients at private hospitals."
"I am optimistic that the crisis will be averted soon," he added.
Addressing the issue, Additional Secretary to the Health Ministry and focal point of the ministry's media cell Habibur Rahman Khan, said, "No hospital may refuse to admit patients, and the Health Ministry will take action if such complaints are made about any facility.
"If any hospital refuses to admit a patient, the DGHS Control Room should be contacted. It will take necessary steps to get a patient hospitalised. The ministry is monitoring the facilities."
President of Bangladesh Private Hospital, Clinic and Diagnostic Owners Association (BPCDO), Prof Moniruzzaman Bhuiyan told the Business Standard, "We have passed-on the government notice to all private hospitals with more than 50 beds. We have also requested them to admit patients as per government instructions."
It is the responsibility of the local administration to monitor whether the instructions are being followed properly, he continues, if anyone does not abide by the government instructions the administration should take legal action against them.