In a speech to public representatives and officials, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave strict guidelines to doctors regarding patient care, reminding them of their duty to provide healthcare, whatever the scenario. In the wake of recent reports of patients being denied care, often with fatal results—as was the case of DU student Suman Chakma, who died after allegedly being denied treatment by several hospital authorities—her strong stance on the issue is a welcome one, as is her promise that the government will lend its full support to healthcare workers who put themselves at risk and provide care at the frontlines of the fight against Covid-19. This involves special incentives to encourage doctors, nurses, health workers and other employees working during the pandemic, as well a health insurance of Tk 5-10 lakh for those who become infected with coronavirus while discharging their duties. All treatment costs will also be borne by the government if a public servant is infected in the line of duty.
While all of these are commendable initiatives that receive our full support, we are worried that it might not have the intended effect of boosting the morale of health workers unless the government can also fully commit to providing them with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). We have already seen multiple cases of doctors expressing their concern at the lack of PPE, including the strike by intern doctors at Jalalabad Ragib-Rabeya Medical College Hospital in Sylhet to protest this lack of protection. While there is now a drive to collect this equipment for hospitals, the time is now to make sure all healthcare workers have these resources immediately, since the number of infected are rising every day, especially in the capital. We also urge the government to remember that protective equipment must be given not just to doctors and nurses, but also to cleaners and other class-four employees of government hospitals, who provide crucial services but are often left out of such considerations. We cannot expect these people to put themselves and their families at risk and provide us with the best possible care without ensuring their safety first.