When the number of coronavirus patients needing critical care increases in the days to come, the county's health authorities might find it difficult to attend to them with the limited amount of medical equipment available right now.
Ventilators – mechanical breathing devices – are necessary in the fight to save patients whose lungs have been struck by Covid-19.
However, the country has just 45 ventilators dedicated to treating critical coronavirus patients, said the health directorate.
Some 26 more ventilators have been installed at the Bangladesh Kuwait Friendship Hospital, eight at Sheikh Russel Gastro Liver Hospital, five at Sajeda Foundation Hospital, three at Uttara Regent Hospital, and three at Mirpur Regent Hospital, according to the health directorate.
The Central Medical Stores Depot has 160 more ventilators in its stock which will be installed as required.
For now, the number of dedicated ventilators are those which are now available for Intensive Care Units (ICUs) set up in Dhaka's eight hospitals designated for Covid-19 patients, a health directorate official said, seeking to remain anonymous.
"I have no information about how many are currently being purchased or how many more will be installed," he added.
During an online briefing yesterday, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said, "There are 500 ventilators in our government hospitals at present. Not all of them have been installed yet. And the private hospitals have 700. There are 300 more in the pipeline."
The health minister, however, did not mention the number of ventilators dedicated to coronavirus patients.
Health experts said the list of ventilators the health minister disclosed was basically of what the country has at general ICUs – where corona patients cannot be treated. Coronavirus patients need dedicated ICU beds.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some 80 percent of people with Covid-19 recover without needing hospital treatment. However, one out of six people become seriously ill and can develop breathing difficulties, and they need to be put on ventilators.
Coronavirus attacks people's lungs, in some cases impeding their ability to breathe if they develop pneumonia. Ventilators, which deliver air to the lungs through a tube placed in the windpipe, are crucial to keeping these patients alive.
Prof Ridwanur Rahman, former head of the medicine department at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, told The Business Standard that around 90 percent of corona patients recover without requiring ventilator support.
However, the critical ones with breathing problems have to be put on ventilators to keep them alive, he added.
Prof Ridwanur said, "Earlier, ventilators outside ICU beds were not used much worldwide. Our hospitals also use ventilators only at ICUs. However, after the outbreak of Covid-19, Italy and Spain are providing ventilator support at the field-level too."
Physicians have urged that an adequate number of ventilators be made available for coronavirus patients.
Prof Muzaherul Huq said there have to be scientific ventilators at hospitals. All patients do not need to be shifted to ICU beds. Some patients' breathing problems can be attended to with ventilators. Even young patients may need them.
The United States, the United Kingdom and other countries have been facing a serious crisis of the availability of ventilators.
According to The Wall Street Journal, President Donald Trump ordered General Motors Co to sharply ramp up the production of ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, turning to a wartime presidential power that he had been reluctant to use.
Doctors in Italy are now deciding which patients are in a more critical condition to be put on ventilators.
On March 8, Bangladesh confirmed its first coronavirus case. The number of cases has so far reached 48. Of them, five persons have died. Local transmission has also begun in the country.
Experts said the number of cases may increase within next week. In such a situation, it will be very difficult to treat patients with a limited number of ventilators.
Prof Ridwanur Rahman said, "We have to use ventilators mainly at ICUs, but if the demand rises, we will need to use them outside ICUs."
"If we had ordered ventilators earlier – when we had three months – they would have reached the country by this time. Now it will not be easy to get them amid a global shortage," he added.