The 70-bed Bidyanondo Field Hospital was inaugurated at Sagarika in the Halishahar area of the port city on April 15. The hospital is equipped with all facilities to treat Covid-19, said the hospital's coordinator, Jamal Uddin.
The hospital has a central oxygen system with four high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC), and all necessary tests except for CT- scan are being performed there free of cost.
However, despite the rising number of Covid-19 cases and shortage of quality treatment facilities, the field hospital has barely been utilised. The hospital management posted about the matter on social media recently, urging all to raise awareness about this treatment option.
Jamal Uddin said many people are still unaware of the hospital being in full operation during this wave of the pandemic. "We think most people do not know that we are providing free treatment to Covid-19 patients," he said, "We have all facilities here to treat covid19 patients except for ICU support. Poor patients who cannot afford treatment in private hospitals may come to us. Publicity is required in this regard and so we are trying to utilise social media to raise awareness."
At the field hospital, there are ten doctors working alongside two consultants, eight nurses and 30 volunteer healthcare workers. This 50-member staff were treating only 15 patients admitted at the hospital till last Saturday.
At another affordable treatment centre established by Chattogram City Corporation, a similar situation is prevailing. At the CCC's isolation centre in the port city's Laldighi Par, only three patients were admitted on Saturday. The centre has a total of 36 medical staff including 11 doctors, said sources in CCC.
The centre has the facility of a central oxygen system with HFNC and treatment is free of cost.
Contacted, Dr Selim Akter Chowdhury, chief health officer of CCC, said it is unfortunate that a 36-member medical team was treating just three patients. "Running the isolation centre incurs a huge cost for CCC but the resources remain underutilised as patients aren't coming here," he said.
Dr Selim said that patients with mild symptoms don't come to isolation centres because they can just isolate at home. "Only those who need oxygen support come to hospitals but poor patients rush to government hospitals and well-off patients to private clinics," he said.
There are vacant beds at government hospitals too. In Chattogram General Hospital (CGH), a total of 78 patients were admitted in the 150-bed Covid-19 ward while 21 patients were admitted in the 32-bed ward in Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases (BITID). Meanwhile, 82 patients were admitted in the 100-bed Covid-19 ward in Chattogram Medical College Hospital on Saturday, said sources in the hospitals.
On the other hand, private hospitals are close to being overwhelmed by patients.
In Chattogram Ma O Shishu Hospital, a total of 138 patients were admitted on Saturday in their 140-bed ward, said Rezaul Karim, member secretary of Covid-19 management cell in the hospital.
In Max Hospital, 45 patients were admitted against 50 dedicated beds for Covid-19 patients and in Parkview Hospital, all the 80 beds dedicated for Covid-19 patients were filled up on Saturday, said sources in the hospitals.
Public health expert Dr Mamunur Rashid, also associate professor of clinical and tropical medicine at BITID, said, "People are not panicked over Covid-19 like they were at the onset of the pandemic last year. So most patients with mild to moderate symptoms are receiving treatment at home instead of visiting the hospital."
"Only those who feel breathing problems are seen visiting the hospitals," he added.
Asked about the higher ratio of patients in private hospitals, Dr Mamunur opined, "Well-off groups prefer private hospitals, while middle-class people also follow suit because they think private hospitals offer better treatment for the high price."
"Meanwhile, mostly lower-income groups rush to government hospitals," he said.
Echoing the statement, CMCH director Brig Gen SM Humayun Kabir said many patients initially get admitted to private hospitals but when they need ICU support at one stage, they want to shift to CMCH as the ICU is highly expensive in private hospitals.
"I say to them, no, my patients at CMCH would get ICU support first if they need it. If beds are vacant and not needed for my patients, only then can I allow patients from outside in ICU," he said.
Dr Abdur Rob, senior consultant of medicine and head of Covid-19 ward at CGH, said, "Last year when the pandemic began, most doctors stopped private practice and doctors had no experience about the treatment of Covid-19."
"Now, the doctors are more experienced and many have resumed private practice. So patients are availing treatment from there instead of hospitals as well," he explained.
"However, private hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with patients. People in our society have a misconception that they will get better treatment only if they spend more money," said Dr Abdur Rob.
"Yes, treatment requires money. But in private hospitals, patients pay out of their pocket. In public hospitals, the same treatment is subsidised by the government," he added.
According to Chattogram Civil Surgeon's office, a total of 279 positive cases were detected in Chattogram on Saturday, while the number of detected Covid-19 cases was 298 and 278 on Friday and Thursday respectively.