Healthcare workers in Chattogram have raised questions about the quality of the personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to them to treat Covid-19 patients.
Swadhinata Chikitsak Parishad (Shwachip), a pro-Awami League organisation of physicians, the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), and many other leaders of the ruling party have demanded an investigation into the process of purchasing this equipment.
On condition of anonymity a doctor of Chattogram Medical College Hospital said, "We did not want any incentives. If we receive good quality PPE, we will be able to treat patients without fear. The surgical masks provided by the government are of poor quality. They have fewer layers than the ones available on the market. So we have to use two or three masks together."
"We feel afraid when we provide treatment wearing the PPE we were given, so we cannot treat patients with a calm mind," he added.
Till Saturday, 34 Covid-19 patients have been diagnosed in Chattogram, five of whom have died. The novel coronavirus patients there are being treated at Chattogram General Hospital and the Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases (BITID). Around 700 healthcare workers are employed to treat these patients.
The healthcare workers there have been sharing masks with each other repeatedly. They have been forced to do so, despite the risks, as there is a shortage of masks.
Tanjima Chowdhury, a BITID Senior staff nurse, "We have two N95 masks for six nurses. So we are sharing the same masks."
Dr Faisal Iqbal Chowdhury, general secretary of the BMA Chattogram, said, "The government bought PPE worth Tk400 crore for the health workers. However, it is very difficult to recognize whether the goggles bought were children's toy sunglasses or actual goggles."
"All the protective products including the PPE, disposable gowns, and masks are of poor quality. Some corrupt officials in the ministry have embezzled money in the name buying these products," said Dr Faisal, who is also the public health secretary of Awami League's Chattogram city unit.
Organising secretary of Shwachip Dr ANM Minhazur Rahman said, "Using this low-quality PPE while treating patients does not make a difference. This equipment will not ensure our safety. The masks are of the lowest quality. The healthcare workers will be at risk if they use these."
Dr Shushant Barua, member secretary of the Janashashtha Adhikar Rakkha Committee Chattogram, said, "Hospitals can be made quickly, but not doctors. The novel coronavirus situation in the country might deteriorate if the healthcare workers' protection is not ensured. The good quality of the protective equipment has to be ensured. Otherwise, there will be a disaster."
So far, around a hundred health workers have contracted the novel coronavirus in Bangladesh – like in many other countries across the world.
According to the World Health Organization's guidelines there are 16 rights of healthcare workers that a state must ensure. Most important among these rights are: ensuring the supply of enough information, providing guidelines and training, ensuring safety and supplying all the equipment necessary to prevent infections, protection of mental health, maintaining proper work hours, and the scope of working without being blamed.
Mental health specialists have advised the authorities concerned to stand beside the doctors to keep up their morale during the crisis.
Shahinur Rahman, assistant professor of psychology at the Chattogram University, said, "The state and the society have to take initiatives to keep the doctors' morale high. The doctors must be given protective equipment and treated with due respect. Otherwise the healthcare system will break down."
Meanwhile, visiting the healthcare centres, our correspondent found that the healthcare workers have been suffering from a crisis of medical supplies and food. The masks provided at these centres are not N95 masks.
Health workers of the BITID at Faujdarhat in Chattogram have been arranging for their own food.
The civil surgeon's office in Chattogram said so far 10,655 PPE have been distributed in Chattogram and around 23,000 are in stock.
Civil Surgeon Dr Sheikh Fazle Rabbi said, "We are distributing the equipment provided by the government. The government ensures the quality of the equipment, so we cannot comment on it."