The country has so far lost 180 doctors to Covid-19 while its Delta variant has made the frontliners more vulnerable, according to the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA).
The number of Covid-related deaths of doctors dropped markedly in May and June this year as most of them got inoculated following the launch of Covid vaccination in the country, but fatalities started to rise again in July due to the Delta variant of infection that has ravaged the country, experts say.
Dr Shamim Ahmed, 50, associate professor of the Department of Radiology and Imaging at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, died from Covid-19 on Tuesday afternoon while undergoing treatment at Square Hospital in the capital.
On the previous day, Dr Zakia Rashid, 46, consultant at the Obsessive and Gynaecology Department of Tangail Sheikh Hasina Medical College Hospital, succumbed to the coronavirus infection.
Including these two, four doctors have died from Covid-19 across the country in the past two days.
The list of the doctors who died includes Dr Najib Mohammad, head of the intensive care unit (ICU) of Gonoshasthaya Nagar Hospital and Gonoshasthaya Dialysis Centre. He succumbed to the deadly Covid-19 virus at a Dhaka hospital on Monday morning at the age of 66.
Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra, said Dr Najib's death has caused irreparable damage to the country's ICU medical services.
Dr Najib worked for a long time at the ICU department of King Faisal Medical University in Saudi Arabia. He made significant contributions to the advanced and modern medical system in the ICU at home and abroad.
Dr Mohammed Sheikh Shahidullah, office secretary of the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), told The Business Standard that the workload on doctors is enormous now as Covid-19 infections have marked a radical surge and hospitals are facing excessive pressure of patients owing to the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The number of doctors in government hospitals, however, has not increased, he pointed out.
"At the beginning of the Covid outbreak, there were arrangements for doctors' quarantine. After seven days of duty they had the opportunity to stay in quarantine for 15 days. They could go home with a negative Covid-19 test report, which would protect them and their families. But now there is no such arrangement. As a result, doctors are more exposed to the virus," he observed.
Dr Sheikh Shahidullah also stressed appointing more doctors and health workers as soon as possible. "Doctors will then not have to do extra work in the Covid-19 ward and the risk of coronavirus infection will be reduced," he added.
The maiden Covid-related death of a doctor in the country was reported on 15 April last year. Moin Uddin Ahmed, 47, assistant professor of medicine at Osmani Medical College in Sylhet, died on the day.
Doctors' deaths were reported every day in June last year.
According to the BMA, 45 doctors died in June 2020. The highest number of single-day deaths of doctors was reported on 4 June. Five physicians succumbed to Covid-19 on the day.
The coronavirus-related fatality rate among doctors had been declining since September last year, but marked a surge again in April this year.
In the three months from January to March this year, only seven doctors died from the novel coronavirus. In April, the figure climbed to 21. Fatalities were very low in the following two months – 5 Covid-related deaths of doctors were reported in May and June. However, since July, the figures for doctors' deaths have started rising again. In July, 15 doctors died from Covid-19.
Dr Ehteshamul Huq Choudhury, Secretary General of the BMA, told The Business Standard that patients are now getting lung infections and facing deaths within two days of being infected with the Delta variant. That is why the deaths of doctors like those of other patients are increasing, he added.
In addition, many of the doctors who have died had comorbidity, he continued.
Dr Ehteshamul Huq Choudhury said the viral load has increased a lot now as the number of patients has increased drastically. Therefore, doctors now have to be more careful in using PPE.
"Having been vaccinated and doing the same thing for 16 months, doctors are now somewhat relaxed with the use of PPE. This increases the risk of infection," he observed.
He noted that if the chain of infection is not broken, the pandemic will continue to spread and then the risk of infections and deaths of doctors and health workers will increase.
"Many talented doctors have died in the past one and a half years, causing irreparable loss to the country. Therefore, more emphasis should be placed on preventing infection."
According to the BMA's latest data on 3 August 2021, 3,080 doctors have been infected with Covid-19 across the country so far. At the same time, 2,237 nurses and 3,992 health workers in the country have been infected with the coronavirus.