The New York governor has rightly said that ventilators are to the coronavirus fight what "missiles were to WWII". Amid criticism of Bangladesh's response to the epidemic, such nuggets of wisdom are an important reminder of what can be done on a priority basis. So far, Bangladesh has been mostly focused on the expansion of testing and treatment services for coronavirus cases, without notable success. But one important aspect that remains still unaddressed is the lack of ventilators, the machines that help ICU patients with breathing. Covid-19, basically a respiratory illness caused by the virus, attacks the patients' lungs; ventilators help them breathe when they are no longer able to breathe on their own, thus increasing their chance of survival. Bangladesh has reportedly 1,250 ventilators—500 in public hospitals and 750 in private ones. That is far fewer than the amount required for a country with more than 16 crore people. According to one estimate, we might need at least 25,000 ventilators in the coming days.
We, therefore, fully support the call by experts to expand the ventilator service urgently. One of the options available to Bangladesh is to get the devices brought in from China, where the number of Covid-19 cases have dropped. Another is to make them locally. The government has already enlisted the service of local tech giant Walton to manufacture them with support from Medtronic. This is a welcome step, one that should be followed by more such initiatives. Intrinsically connected to this is the need to have professionals trained to run the devices properly. The private hospitals can be an important ally in this regard, as they can help develop necessary manpower and also expand the ventilator services by procuring and installing them on their own. While talking to The Daily Star, one expert said the government could provide Tk 500 crore in interest-free loans to private hospitals to install around 10,000 ventilators in two months. Such proposals deserve consideration. We need to remember that the coming months are going to be crucial, given the growing threat of a wider communal spread of the coronavirus, and we should encourage such initiatives since the private sector can play a huge role in this fight, as it has done in countries most affected by the virus.