The Covid-19 pandemic remains a serious threat to public health, but privately-owned field hospitals and isolation centres set up to tackle the outbreak in Chattogram are gradually shutting down due to financial crisis and other issues.
Three out of seven such facilities have already closed their doors, and many others are on the verge of shutting down their institutions despite having patients.
Experts have raised concerns over the issue as these healthcare facilities serve as a focal point for Covid-19 treatment in the region, and their absence could cause the outbreak to spiral out of control.
Some of the entrepreneurs behind such hospitals said they are unable to continue running these healthcare facilities due to a multitude of issues, such as a lack of operating funds and donations.
After the Covid-19 outbreak began spreading throughout the country, public health expert Dr Biddut Barua launched the Chattogram Field Hospital under his supervision on April 21. Since then, six such private facilities have sprung up at the port city to help tackle the outbreak.
The other facilities are the Corona Isolation Centre Chattogram, Al Manahil Nurture Hospital, CMP-Bidyanondo Field Hospital, Patenga-EPZ Field Hospital, the Isolation Centre set up by Chattogram City Corporation, and Mukti Isolation Centre – which was launched by ruling party mayoral candidate Rezaul Karim.
The government also designated Chattogram Medical College Hospital and Chattogram General Hospital for treatment of Covid-19 patients.
Along with the government facilities, the seven privately-owned Covid-19 isolation centres and field hospitals had lessened some of the treatment related concerns of the port city residents.
But on August 31, Chattogram Field Hospital officially closed its doors. In a statement, the hospital's founder and Chief Executive Officer Dr Biddut Barua said, "The hospital had been operating through public donations. But this support has gradually decreased.
"Under such circumstances, we have decided to suspend the hospital's activities for the foreseeable future."
This hospital has provided outdoor and indoor services to 1,612 people who had tested Covid-19 positive or showed symptoms. Thirty-five employees, including doctors, nurses and volunteers used to work at that facility.
The Isolation Centre in the port city – set up by the Chattogram City Corporation – was inaugurated on June 13, and shut down on August 14.
Besides, the Corona Isolation Centre Chattogram – which began providing healthcare services on June 14 – halted its activities on September 15. The facility had provided healthcare to 765 people who either tested positive or had symptoms.
When asked about the decision, founder of the facility Sazzad Hossain said, "We had rented the space from the owner of a community centre, and the three-month agreement has expired.
"We were also facing financial issues. So, we decided to shut down the facility for good despite having patients."
Patenga-EPZ Field Hospital, which was set up at a school in Patenga, is on the verge of shutting down. The facility's managing committee is set to hold a meeting on September 20 to decide whether to shut down the hospital or not, confirmed the authorities concerned.
Due to the shutdown of a number of isolation centres and field hospitals in Chattogram, CMP-Bidyanondo Field Hospital is witnessing an increased number of patients. People who tested Covid-19 positive and those with symptoms are now flocking to the hospital's outdoor facility.
Addressing the issue, the hospital's Coordinator Jamal Uddin said, "Under the current pandemic situation, now is not the time to shut down such field hospitals. We will run this facility at least till next October. As other isolation centres have shut down, we are witnessing a gradual increase in the number of patients here."
Commenting on the matter, the Consumers Association of Bangladesh's (CAB) Vice President SM Nazer Hossain said, "Amid the deadly outbreak of the novel coronavirus, isolation centres set up by private entrepreneurs had eased some of the concerns of port city dwellers.
"However, due to the gradual shutdown of those facilities, people are losing alternative means of getting treatment for Covid-19. Amid the ongoing situation, I hardly believe that the quality of healthcare offered at public hospitals has seen any improvement."
Unless government initiatives are increased for tackling the Covid-19 outbreak, the pandemic situation in the port city could spiral out of control, he added.
Additional Divisional Commissioner (Development) Mohammad Mizanur Rahman – who serves as the convener of a surveillance committee formed to ensure healthcare for all patients, including Covid-19 cases, said, "The people are now more aware about the novel coronavirus.
"Even if the privately-owned Covid-19 isolation centres shut down, treatment will remain available at public hospitals."
Meanwhile, Chattogram Civil Surgeon Dr Sheikh Fazle Rabbi said, "We have requested the privately-owned healthcare facilities – which have already shut down – to restart their activities if the pandemic situation deteriorates.
"There are 650 designated seats at public hospitals for Covid-19 cases in Chattogram city. Besides, many private hospitals are also treating novel coronavirus patients."
According to the Chattogram Civil Surgeon's Office, 18,120 people tested positive for the novel coronavirus until September 16. Among them, 12,950 are from the port city and 5,170 from different upazilas.
Till the filing of this report, 282 people have died from the disease. Of them, 195 are from Chattogram city, and 87 are from various upazilas. Besides, 14,274 people have recovered from the infection so far.