Yesterday, we published a caption story of the 24-year-old Jhuma sitting on the footpath in the vicinity of Shahid Minar in a state of near collapse, supported by her husband, Shujan, standing next to her. Our photographer, Anisur Rahman, who has the habit of occasionally starting his work after taking his Sehri, met this young but distraught couple at five in the morning.
Here is what the couple narrated to Anis.
Jhuma was expecting to give birth a month from now. She already knew she was going to have twin boys. At 3:00am on Thursday, she experienced premature labour pain. She and her husband went to clinics in the area and everyone refused to admit her as she had fever. Using the internet, they found the name of a clinic in Mirpur with its own ambulance service. They availed themselves of the service and thought their troubles were over.
On reaching the clinic, they were told it could not admit her without a no-Covid certificate because of her fever. The two were advised to go to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. On reaching the DMCH emergency, they were told to go to the specialised Covid unit. The couple justifiably feared being infected and hence refused to go there and took refuge on the footpath when our photojournalist Anis met them.
By this time, her bleeding had started, and she had nowhere to go and none were helping them. She was desperate and delirious. Anis hailed an ambulance that happened to accidentally pass by and pleaded with the driver to take Jhuma to some clinic on humanitarian grounds. The driver, having first refused, reluctantly agreed seeing the desperate condition Jhuma was in.
The driver took them to clinics in other areas, and being continuously refused, the couple decided to seek refuge in the locality where they reside. One ramshackle clinic back in Gazipur agreed to admit her, on condition that they do not reveal its name or address, where she gave birth to twins by a C-section at 12:40pm in the afternoon. As of yesterday, both the mother and the twins were well.
The story ended happily.
But it could, just as well, have not. Jhuma was in labour with twins which meant that something had to be done within a limited time and that she needed medical attention immediately. Each clinic that refused her literally condemned her to a dangerous eventuality which could have proven to be fatal for her or her twins or both.
How could the clinics and hospitals throw out a pregnant woman in labour? A minimum examination would have revealed that she was in no position to be shuttled from one clinic to another. At one stage, her bleeding had started, and even then she was shown the door. Except for fever, which can come from myriad reasons, including labour, Jhuma had no symptoms resembling those of Covid-19.
Recently, we have been publishing many stories of patients being routinely denied treatment for having fever, cough or respiratory issues. (See our story "Victims of denial", published yesterday, May 21, 2020). The requirement being demanded is a "no-Covid" certificate before admission. Except for a limited number of places -- 23 testing booths, whose locations are not well known -- and all government hospitals in the city, one cannot get such a certificate from anywhere else. If one is lucky to reach such a place and have themselves tested, the result takes anywhere between three to seven days to come.
So, what happens to patients in the meantime?
Emergency patients afflicted with serious non-Covid aliments are routinely dying after being denied treatment. A health ministry directive issued last Monday clearly specifies that no patient can be refused treatment if there are treatment facilities. Such directives are meaningless to patients who are suffering and in some cases dying due to lack of treatment.
If nothing else, let us make special arrangements for pregnant women to receive treatment in these trying circumstances. More specifically, special arrangements must be made for expecting mothers who are in the last phases of their pregnancy, during which all sorts of emergencies may occur.
A simple solution would be that every hospital should have facilities to test for Covid-19 and admit patients accordingly. It can be mentioned here that the testing kit from Gonoshasthaya Kendra could provide the perfect solution if its claim proves to be correct. Yet, bureaucratic delay is holding its permission. Just imagine the difference such a testing facility would make.