Meeting needs of medical staff during the pandemic

Publish: 9:45 PM, December 3, 2020 | Update: 9:45:PM, December 3, 2020

As coronavirus cases mount in the country ,our government struggles to keep its front-line healthcare workers free from getting infected, which has further strained the country’s medical facilities.At least 251 doctors tested positive for coronavirus since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to the Bangladesh Doctors Foundation (BDF), as the group blamed a lack ofproper personal protective equipment (PPE) and infections from patients for the outbreak among the doctors.

Like many countries, Bangladesh is also grappling with a shortage of dependable personal protective equipments(PPEs) for its health workers.A study sometime ago by the country’s BRAC University found that nearly 25 percent of doctors and nurses – and 60 percent of medical support staff – engaged in treating coronavirus patients wereyet to receive proper PPEs. The situation has been improving, albeit slowly. With the send wave of corona virus breathing hard down our necks, it has become absolutely necessary to procure dependablePPEs in sufficient number at the soonest. Emergency import of such PPEs need to be carried out if there is dearth of such local PPE manufacturers.

Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director of the Bangladesh government’s Institute of Epidemiology,Disease Control and Research, admitted there was a shortage of “quality” PPE.”It’s not our unique problem: healthcare workers across the world are facing an acute crisis of PPEs. We are trying to outsource quality PPE from different places. Several private organisations have come forward to donate PPE,” she told Al Jazeera.As demands for PPE have increased, some ready-made garment (RMG) factories in Bangladesh started producing it.

However, most RMG factories can only manufacture chemical-resistant PPE, and do not have a dust-free and medical-grade environment to produce medical-grade equipment.”Without medical-grade PPEs, our front-line healthcare workers are exposed to possible COVID-19 infection,” observed Nirupam Das, BDF’s chief administrator.

Once infected with coronavirus, the doctors are quarantined and the hospital ward where they worked is shut for safety measures.According to the BDF data, intensive care units and general wards of as many as 11 hospitals across Bangladesh had to be closed down after healthcare workers were infected.”Bangladesh already has a fragile healthcare system. If we are forced to send our doctors to quarantine, then it will be extremely difficult for us to continue our fight against coronavirus,” said an insider source.According to the World Bank’s development indicators, Bangladesh’s number of doctors per 1,000 people in 2017 was 0.5 – one of the lowest in the world.

Another problem the healthcare workers in Bangladesh are facing is that patients are concealing their medical symptoms and related information to avoid stigma, social isolation or quarantine.Many people believe that if they get infected, their houses will be locked down and their family members will be treated negatively.

Besides, the designated hospitals for treating coronavirus patients are nearly full to their capacity, forcing people displaying coronavirus-like symptoms to flock to public and private hospitals.Since those hospitals are not treating COVID-19 patients, people are trying to get treatment there by hiding their symptoms.

In a recent news briefing, Bangladesh’s Minister of Health Zahid Maleque said, “It is a big problem that many people carrying the symptoms of COVID-19 are concealing information and showing little interest in undergoing tests.””That is why many of our doctors and health workers are getting infected with the virus. Such a tendency is very alarming,” he said.

Faisal Islam Fahim, a medical officer at Sher-e-Bangla Medical College and Hospital in Barisal District, informed that about 150 doctors of his hospital were forced to go into quarantine after two of them were found to be infected by COVID-19. The two doctors had handled a male patient who hid his symptoms to avoid quarantine.”The patient lied about respiratory problems and pain in his throat and got admitted in the hospital. Two internee doctors handled him and grew suspicious once the patient showed symptoms. Later he was found to be COVID-19 positive. But the damage was done by then,” said Fahim.

A similar incident happened at the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, whose principal Khan Abul Kalam Azad admitted that a female patient admitted there had hidden her coronavirus symptoms.”The patient later tested positive for the virus and four of our nurses who handled her got infected,” he said.Azad added that another doctor at Suhrawardy Hospital in the capital also tested positive after a COVID-19 patient concealed information.

Those people who are hiding their symptoms don’t understand the problem. If our doctors and nurses get infected with COVID-19 by taking care of untested patients, then who will later take care of the patients?

After a deceptive fall in COVID-19 cases during July to September in Bangladesh, cases have started rising again that suggest hospitals which had hurriedly dismantled earlier their preparations for receiving COVID-19 patients from a false anticipation of a dwindling down of the pandemic, these hospitals should be remobilized afresh quickly to cope with the worsening second-wave.

Reports appeared recently that some hospitals which organized hotel accommodation for their doctors and staff who attend to Corona patients, they were told to do their duties from home and the hotel facility was withdrawn. Some health workers have threatened that they would not resume their duties by risking their family members with infection by coming back home after duty hours. Therefore, the hotel accommodation facility for medical staff needs to be restored immediately to be able to keep them in their jobs dedicatedly.