Dr Moyeen Uddin Ahmed, assistant professor of Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College, died of Covid-19 on April 15. He was the first doctor in the country to die of the virus.
Thirty-five doctors have since died of the infection and with similar symptoms – four of them on June 12 alone and 20 in the past 13 days. The mortality rate among physicians is 2.99 percent.
The number of infections among these front-line fighters has also kept increasing each day.
So far, 1,172 doctors have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Of them, 550 have returned to work after recovery.
Besides doctors, 1,120 nurses and 200 technologists have contracted Covid-19 and three of the nurses have died.
According to the doctors' association Foundation for Doctors Safety, Rights and Responsibility, 29 physicians have died of Covid-19 and six others died with coronavirus symptoms.
As of Saturday morning, Bangladesh has reported 84,379 Covid-19 cases and 1,139 deaths from the virus. The mortality rate is 1.35 percent compared to the number of cases.
So far, 6,206 policemen have contracted coronavirus and 19 of them have died. Compared to the number of infections, the mortality rate of police is 0.31 percent.
Cause of infections and deaths of healthcare workers
Experts say in the beginning, healthcare workers were infected as there was not much personal protective equipment (PPE); also the quality of PPE that they had was not good.
But that problem is over now. Healthcare workers are now being infected and dying due to a lack of training on how to put on and take off PPE, non-disposal of PPEs properly, lack of negative air pressure in intensive care units (ICUs).
Dr Ehteshamul Huq Choudhury, general secretary at the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), told The Business Standard, doctors are dying from the coronavirus for three reasons.
"Of the doctors who have died so far, 25 percent were over 60 years of age. They had comorbidity [a medical condition that co-occurs with another]. Doctors with comorbidity are dying of infection while going to work."
Secondly, anesthesiologists are being infected while setting up ventilators for patients in ICUs, said Dr Ehtesham.
"Doctors need to get very close to patients while setting up ventilators. Additionally, most ICUs in the country do not have a system to keep the air at negative pressure. So, doctors are dying while working in ICUs."
Ehtesham further said many doctors are contracting Covid-19 for not maintaining the safety rules properly while putting on and taking off PPE.
Dr Rahat Anwer Choudhury, joint secretary of the Foundation for Doctors' Safety, Rights and Responsibilities, told The Business Standard, "Healthcare workers – including doctors and nurses – are being infected with coronavirus due to community transmission."
Healthcare workers were not given any training on how to wear and take off PPE. Also, this requires space but most hospitals do not have enough space for performing these tasks. They are getting infected as they cannot maintain enough carefulness while taking off their protective gears.
Dr Rahat said a lack of planning is also responsible for more deaths among doctors. The total workforce was not divided by a plan. Elderly doctors with co-morbidity have been placed directly on the treatment of Covid-19 patients. Deaths would have been lower if junior physicians had been placed in the frontline by a plan, then older physicians with comorbidity would have been less exposed.
Number of deaths of doctors in the country is alarming
Dr Rahat said the number of physicians' deaths in the country is alarming. In some countries – including Italy – more doctors might have died, but that is less compared to their total death toll. But in Bangladesh, doctors have accounted for about 3 percent of the total deaths. Which is more than any other country.
He added that the number of health workers in the country is already much less than the requirement. The shortage of specialist doctors is acute. The death of so many specialist doctors is an irreparable loss. It takes 30 to 35 years to become a specialist.
Mortality rate of doctors in Bangladesh is higher than neighbouring countries
Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has released a list of 37 doctors and three paramedics who have so far died of coronavirus in the country. At least 3,635 healthcare workers have contracted coronavirus.
In India, 1,028 healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19 and 34 have died so far, according to local media reports.
According to an Anadolu Agency report, China's National Health Commission in February confirmed that at least 3,387 healthcare workers had been infected nationwide and at least 34 had died.
According to a BMJ report, in Spain approximately 50,000 healthcare professionals have been infected – representing 20 percent of all recorded cases – and 70 have died.
Demand for a separate hospital for doctors
Doctors are also dying for not being able to get admitted to hospitals in time and not getting ICUs. So, Dr Rahat Anwer Choudhury demanded a separate hospital for physicians.
He said doctors were losing confidence due to deaths of doctors every day. By setting up a separate hospital for doctors, the doctors can at least be sure that they will get proper treatment if they are infected.
The national technical advisory committee on coronavirus says the treatment of the general public will be hampered if there is no proper treatment for healthcare workers.
The technical committee has recommended to the government to immediately arrange separate hospitals for healthcare providers with high-flow oxygen and other medical components.