Last year in June, while the pandemic was raging through the country, the number of Covid-19 patients and deaths increased dramatically in Noakhali. Most of the Covid-19 patients suffered from Oxygen deficiency.
This is when Noakhali police introduced "Police Covid Oxygen Bank," an initiative where police provide free Oxygen cylinders for Covid-19 patients.
As of 5 May, some 235 Covid-19 patients benefited from the free oxygen service of whom 159 people were from Noakhali, 61 from Lakshmipur, six from Feni, and nine from Cumilla.
The service was inaugurated on 28 June 2020 by the Noakhali Superintendent of Police Md Alamgir Hossain at the Noakhali Police Hospital. The service that started with 10 high-flow oxygen cylinders later added 45 more oxygen cylinders. Some 15 volunteers are involved in the initiative.
Rakib Hossain who is a beneficiary of the oxygen service said, "A few days ago, my uncle was suffering from extreme breathing problems and the doctor advised to put him in oxygen support. So, I called the free oxygen service and they asked me to go to the hospital with my NID. I brought an oxygen cylinder home the morning after registration."
Rasel Chowdhury who volunteers for the service was also benefited from Police Covid Oxygen Bank. After one of his relatives fell sick with Covid-19, their oxygen rate fell.
"I called the service at 2 am and they asked me to go instantly. I collected an oxygen cylinder free of cost that night. Later I joined the service as a volunteer," he added.
About the service, S M Kamrul Hasan, traffic police inspector, who is the supervisor of the oxygen bank, said that the service is exclusively for Covid-19 patients who suffer from extreme breathing problems.
"If anyone calls for a cylinder for a patient, we supply it to them for free if they cannot manage to come and take it from us. At first, our service was limited to the Noakhali district but now people of neighbouring Lakshmipur, Feni and Cumilla are also taking service from us," Hasan added.
About how the service started its journey a year ago, Hasan reminisced, "On 26 June last year, on my way home from work, I saw a Covid-19 patient in a CNG in front of the Sudharam Model Police Station. The patient shortly died due to breathing problems. After witnessing this tragedy, I proposed the idea of setting up an oxygen bank to the Superintendent of Police and within two days, our service took off.
When contacted, Noakhali District Superintendent of Police Md Alamgir Hossain said, "When the pandemic first started, people were very scared. We witnessed very unfortunate incidents where family members left dead bodies of their loved ones on the street out of fear. So many people contracted the virus and some of our officers were sick as well. The breathing issue was very common among the patients and that is why we started our free oxygen bank service."
Hossain said that their oxygen bank currently has 55 high-flow cylinders in total.
"If someone cannot come to us to take the cylinders, we take it to them. Also, after the cylinder is empty, they need to be returned to us for refilling and if anyone is unable to make the commute due to financial problems, our volunteers collect the empty cylinders from them," he added.
Hossain hopes to keep the service running as long as the virus is not fully under control. Arrangements are underway to add more cylinders to the service, he added.