In the fight against any pandemic, it is the doctors and nurses who risk their lives on the frontline. Now that coronavirus has come to Dhaka, they are tense and panicky. Some are even thinking of leaving the job.
Throughout the day yesterday, doctors at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) and Kurmitola General Hospital discussed personal safety issues amongst themselves, and demanded proper safety gear from the authorities. They also posted warnings on their social media platform.
Their fear has spiked because government hospitals have a very limited supply of safety apparel, and these are being used on a priority basis. Only those who treat suspected patients get to wear the safety attire.
But that leaves others vulnerable in a high-risk zone.
Three thousand sets of protective attire were distributed between 23 public hospitals in the country yesterday, out of which six are in Dhaka, according to the Central Medical Stores.
"I am scared because I have to deal with pneumonia patients. I have no protective gear of the type that I have seen Chinese health workers using," said a doctor at the Kurmitola Hospital. "I have two children. I am worried about infecting them. And we are frequently getting patients with coronavirus symptoms."
The memory of the high infection and fatality among doctors and nurses during last year's dengue outbreak is still fresh in their mind. Doctors feel they have not given enough information about the present situation.
Doctors at private hospitals are more worried because none of them have been given protective apparel, while only 11 public healthcare facilities in the capital and a few outside Dhaka have the apparel.
So, any patients with symptoms of fever or cough are often turned away.
Meanwhile, several doctors have been kept in isolation or have been quarantined after they began showing symptoms of coronavirus.
This includes four doctors of a private hospital who treated the patient who died of COVID-19. The patient was 70 and got infected by his daughter who visited Bangladesh from the US recently.
The consultant of the team that treated the patient was the first to show symptoms. Their samples were sent to the IEDCR for testing for Coronavirus.
This is the backdrop in which doctors panic about getting infected because they are either in close proximity to COVID-19 positive patients, or work in the same hospital. Furthermore, they are not given personal protective apparel when they treat the patients.
Doctors at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University say that since it is not possible to tell who is infected and who is not until tested, all doctors need protective apparel for their safety.
Apart from the three hospitals that provide treatment to Coronavirus patients, Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Mugda Medical College Hospital and Sir Salimullah Medical College are among the facilities that have received protective apparel for healthcare providers. That too in small numbers.
"Only those who come in contact with suspected cases or isolated patients can use protective apparel," one of the doctors said.
A doctor at Kurmitola General Hospital, one of the three designated for treating COVID-19 patients, said the Corona Cell is adjacent to the emergency unit "with nothing to keep normal patients and doctors protected from being infected."
At least two medical officers are thought to be infected, and a test sample from one of them has been sent to the IEDCR.
Concerned over safety, senior doctors talked to the hospital's director, pressing their demand for protective equipment.
They say it will be difficult for them to provide care if their safety is not ensured.