Save the Children today made an urgent call for international assistance to help Bangladesh meet a surge in demand for ventilators amid the Covid-19 outbreak and to avert a humanitarian disaster in the country.
The call comes at a time when 164 people were found infected with coronavirus, of whom 17 died. There are fears that the numbers would go up in the coming days despite a shutdown across the country since March 26.
A statement by Save the Children Australia today said most of Bangladesh's intensive care beds and ventilators are in major urban centres, including the capital Dhaka, making it difficult for remote communities to access those.
There are reportedly 1,769 ventilators in Bangladesh at this moment or in the pipeline, which means an average of one ventilator for every 93,273 people.
Save the Children also expressed concerns for the estimated 3.3 million people who live in Cox's Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh, a million of whom are Rohingya refugees living in cramped conditions with limited access to adequate hygiene and health facilities.
"The acute scarcity of ventilators in the district means lives will be lost when Covid-19 starts to spread more widely in the community," it said.
Dr Shamim Jahan, deputy country director for Save the Children in Bangladesh, said at present it is difficult for Bangladesh to meet the expected surge in demand for ventilators to help respond to the Covid-19 outbreak.
"We are in this together -- no single country can confront Covid-19 alone, even the richest and most powerful among us. It is therefore essential that world leaders -- in particular the G20 countries -- commit to a coordinated global plan underpinned by debt relief.
"We also urge the Bangladesh government to engage the public and private sectors urgently to secure ventilators for Covid-19 patients," Jahan said.
Athena Rayburn, Save the Children's Rohingya Response Advocacy Manager, said without access to intensive care facilities in Cox's Bazar, patients in critical condition may have to be transported to the neighbouring Chattogram district 150 kilometres away, further increasing the risk to them and others.
"Ventilators and people trained to operate them are urgently needed to protect the host communities and Rohingya refugees to avert a humanitarian disaster if we start to see community-level transmission of Covid-19," she said.
Rayburn added children are at serious risk of contracting the virus, but also of being orphaned or neglected if family members become infected or die.