Soon after the nationwide shutdown began, Kanta (pseudonym) caught a cold and suffered a runny nose and dry cough for two days.
She did not pay much attention to it and thought it was happening due to weather changes.
When Kanta's temperature hit 100 degree Fahrenheit on the third day, her family advised her to get herself tested for the novel coronavirus.
Kanta first called a number of private hospitals to book an appointment. Almost all the hospitals refused to see her. She found out most hospitals are nowadays refusing to attend flu patients.
Labaid Hospital refused to attend her even through the emergency helpline number. They simply told her to contact IEDCR.
When she called the United Hospital, upon hearing that she is a flu patient they refused to help as well.
Following the outbreak, normal flu patients are finding it difficult to get medical assistance. The symptoms of a normal flu and the novel coronavirus are similar, and patients are being sent back by many hospital authorities who are not equipped to deal with Covid-19 patients.
Many hospitals are however responding to a regular flu patient over the phone, but eventually advising them to contact IEDCR and get tested for the novel coronavirus.
The Apollo Hospitals Dhaka, Square Hospital Limited, BRB Hospital Limited, Japan Bangladesh Friendship Hospital and Islami Bank Hospital are providing emergency services over phone to anyone with flu-like symptoms.
At these hospitals, the operators connect the patients to an on-duty doctor in the emergency department, who prescribes medication after listening to the symptoms. In addition, they also advise patients on whether to contact the IEDCR.
Meanwhile, the government has told citizens to contact "Shasthya Batayan" - a healthcare hotline number run by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), for any emergency.
Kanta went online and looked up the numbers. The numbers are: 16263 and 333. When she dialed, both the lines were busy, as both the numbers are swamped by calls from citizens.
The hotline is quite popular among people. Once a person connects to the hotline number, a DGHS-appointed medical expert prescribes medicines and advises on whether the flu patient needs to contact IEDCR.
The pursuit of treatment
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research is the primary authority for testing and dealing with Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh.
When Kanta dialled their number, she was connected with a medical expert who asked her about the symptoms and whether she has a recent international travel history or got in touch with someone who did. She was also asked if she has any breathing problem, fever or sore throat.
Kanta said she had a runny nose, dry cough and little fever. The IEDCR refused to test her, but prescribed her some medicines and asked her to self-isolate.
Kanta decided to physically visit one of the government hospitals and meet a doctor. At the Dhaka Medical College she was refused entry at the emergency and the doctor told her attendant – her elder sister – to come inside and describe her symptoms. The Medicine unit 5, Ward 602, of the DMCH is usually overcrowded with patients with different ailments and symptoms, including dengue fever. On the day Kanta visited, March 30, there were only two patients inside.
"One the duty doctor heard my symptoms he told my sister to take me to Kurmitola General Hospital.
Kurmitola General Hospital is among number of hospitals that have been set aside by the IEDCR for treating coronavirus patients. The others are: Sheikh
Rasel Gastro Liver Institute and Hospital, Kuwait-Bangladesh Friendship Hospital, Railway General Hospital, Metropolitan General Hospital, Mirpur Lalkuthi Hospital, Regent Hospital at Uttara & Mirpur, Sajida Foundation Hospital at Jatrabari, Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College & Hospital, Mugda General Hospital.
Meanwhile, the Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College & Hospital and Mitford Hospital have set up a "flu corner" to treat regular flu patients.
The Dhaka Medical College Hospital reportedly followed suit on April 1.
At the Mitford Hospital, the services run from 8am to 12pm. Each patient needs to buy a ticket for Tk 10 to see a doctor.
In the waiting room, ten circles have been drawn, each three feet apart, so that the social distance can be ensured.
Resident Doctor of Mitford Hospital Ashim Chakraborty said the department can attend 35 patients in a day.
All the doctors wear personal protective equipment (PPE). The corner has its dedicated nurses and cleaners, who are cleaning the area every hour.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) is also going to open a "flu corner" very soon, informed Shamsun Nahar, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
According to doctors working at government hospitals, very few patients are coming to the government hospitals and are instead choosing other available services.
Talking to The Business Standard, Monowar Ahamed, a customer service executive of Dutch Bangla Bank said, he did not go to any government hospital with his flu, fearing that he might contract the deadly coronavirus there.
"I have not taken my three years old son to the government hospitals thinking – what if he gets affected by coronavirus from there. Rather, I have given him medicines from the previous prescription and now he is fine," shared Rahela Khatun, a housewife.
Kanta at one point tried the online medical consultation. Anyone who prefers to be treated at home, can sign up for online consultation for a fee.
Praava Health is providing online video conferencing and prescription to its clients for Tk 800.
A patient can book an appointment on the website and must pay in advance. The customer service agent will confirm the appointment and link the patient with the doctor through video-conferencing.
After the consultation, Praava will send the prescription through an email and also publish it in the patient portal.
In addition, the United Hospital Limited is planning a similar service but on a limited scale. They authorities said they are only open to video-conference services for their follow-up patients.
Labaid Hospital is also planning to open this service soon.