2,000-Bed Temporary Hospital: A Covid facility gone to waste
With hospitals across the country, particularly in the capital, struggling to cope with a surging number of Covid-19 patients, the severely curtailed lifespan of a facility opened last year exactly for this purpose has drawn staunch criticism.
The much-hyped 2,000-bed Bashundhara Covid-19 temporary hospital is being cited as an example of the improper planning of Covid-19 management of the health department.
Yesterday saw the death of 78 Covid-19 patients in a day -- the highest in the country ever, while 5,819 people were tested positive for Covid-19.
On May 17 last year, the health minister inaugurated the hospital in the open space of International Convention Center Bashundhara (ICCB). Equipped with 2,031 general beds, 71 ICU beds, and 10 ventilators, it was set up as an isolation centre during the early months of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.
The health ministry, however, closed the makeshift hospital on September 30 last year "due to lack of patient".
According to the health officials, the government had to spent around Tk 38.5 crore in five months.
Alliant Group -- a third party organisation -- built the structure for the hospital under the supervision of the health ministry, as per "the directive of the prime minister's office", read a billing letter to the health secretary sent by the ICCB authorities on October 19 last year.
"We set up the temporary isolation centre with a 2,000-bed capacity. But there was not a single patient there for six months. Later, the hospital was closed according to a government decision [as] that was just an isolation centre, not a hospital," Health Minister Zahid Maleque told journalists last week.
Upon closing the hospital, all doctors, nurses and other health workers were transferred to other government hospitals, according to the officials, who said all equipment -- beds, ICUs, ventilators, oxygen cylinders and so on -- were distributed to different public hospitals across the country.
THE COST FOR ICCB COVID-19 HOSPITAL
According to the Health Engineering Department (HED) of the health ministry, around Tk 28.89 crore of the total expenditure was spent to arrange the physical infrastructure.
Besides, around Tk 3 crore was spent as operating cost of the hospital, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
Meanwhile, authorities of ICCB also charged Tk 6.40 crore as the rent of the 1.40 lakh square feet structure installed by Alliant Limited.
"It was not true that there was no patient. We treated around a thousand patients in total," Dr Tanveer Ahmed Choudhury, the then director of Bashundhara Hospital, told The Daily Star.
Tanveer is now serving as the director of the Institute of Public Health in Dhaka.
In April last year, the DGHS signed agreements with a number of private or autonomous hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients, with the cost being borne by the government.
From the beginning, however, there were fewer number of patients compared to their capacity.
"There were two reasons behind the closure of Bashundhara Covid-19 hospital. Firstly, there was no patient and secondly, the operational cost was huge," Dr Farid Hossain Mian, director (hospitals and clinics) at the DGHS, told The Daily Star.
Like the Bashundhara hospital, the DGHS also closed 11 other Covid-19 hospitals as the number of patients were declining.
Of those hospitals, four were in Dhaka, six in Chattogram and another was in Sylhet city.
On August 27 last year, the DGHS sent a letter to the secretary of the health services division of the health ministry recommending those hospitals should be closed, as the number of patients were declining.
Amid fresh spike of Covid-19 cases since last month, the government is again planning to build new hospitals for Covid-19 patients.
According to the officials, a hospital in Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) kitchen market will start operating within two weeks, which will have 200 ICU beds and 1,000 isolation beds.
"Covid patients will receive full package treatment at the DNCC hospital. Also, we will start turning the Mohanagar Hospital and Lalkuthi Hospital in Mirpur (in the capital) as full-fledged Covid hospitals with central oxygen supply system again," Dr Farid Hossain Mian said.
'A WHITE ELEPHANT'
Experts said these are not well-planned actions of the government.
"The Bashundhara hospital was a white elephant. The government should think of it before setting up infrastructure there. If the hospital had functioned today, many patients could have been treated there. This a result of weak planning," Prof Ridwanur Rahman, an infectious disease specialist, told The Daily Star.
"No doubt the health ministry has failed to ensure proper treatment arrangement in the hospitals. It is, however, a fact that all the government departments have failed to work together to keep the transmission under control," Prof Ridwanur said.
HEALTH MINISTER'S EXPLANATION
Health Minister Zahid Maleque told this correspondent yesterday when none came forward to give any space for isolation centre, with consultation of the prime minister, ICCB was chosen.
"We made a makeshift isolation centre there immediately as a huge number of expatriates were coming home," the minister said.
"But in the six months, not a single person went there to stay, but the ministry had to spent around Tk 60 lakh for maintaining the makeshift isolation centre."
"Then, with the consultation of high-ups, the makeshift isolation centre was withdrawn. All the beds and equipment were distributed to other hospitals across the country," he added.
The minister said Basundhara gave the tents and they took those away when the isolation centre was withdrawn.
He also spoke about the DNCC kitchen market isolation centre.
"As the number of patients was declining, the work also slowed down," he said about the ongoing work, adding that the work is now going on in full swing.
"It will be the same building, the same set-up. Central oxygen line is going to be added to every floor, and all the beds can be turned into ICU beds," the minister said.