News Analysis: Have we learnt any lesson? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 08, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:18 AM, April 08, 2021

News Analysis: Have we learnt any lesson?

The government's decision to increase ICU beds in 10 public hospitals in Dhaka to treat a rising number of critical Covid-19 patients is certainly a step towards the right direction.

It, albeit late, seems to have grasped the gravity of the situation.

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The healthcare authorities insist that the beds would be ready in a week to 10 days, taking the number of ICU beds in those hospitals to 200.

But what about the public hospitals outside Dhaka? Are those hospitals prepared to tackle the situation everyone is fearing?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

Data from the health directorate backs it up.

There only have 602 ICU beds in the public and private hospitals across the country dedicated to Covid-19 patients. Of those, 433 beds were occupied as of yesterday.

This was not supposed be.

We should have been prepared far better and have had a lot more ICU beds ready.

When the deadly virus was raging thought the country last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on June 2 ordered setting up of ICUs in every district hospitals.

Nine months have gone by but the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) could neither finish the job nor say when it would be done.

Similarly slow is the progress of setting up high-flow oxygen support at public hospitals.

When a serious Covid patient is gasping for air and his or her oxygen saturation level is tumbling, availability of high-flow oxygen support could be a question of life or death.

But the DGHS could ensure 178 high-flow nasal cannulas in 10 Dhaka hospitals, which is inadequate to say the least given the rising number of coronavirus cases.

The situation in the rest of the country causes concern. There are only 720 high-flow nasal cannulas in government and private hospitals dedicated to Covid-19 patients.

The progress of setting up a central oxygen supply system, required for high-flow nasal cannulas to work, in the hospitals across the country is also dismal.

In June last year, the DGHS took up multiple projects to install central oxygen supply systems in 124 hospitals in the country. But only 59 of them got the system so far.

All these bring us to the question: in the absence of ICU facilities in a district, where would a family with a critical patient turn to? Will Dhaka be the ultimate destination for critical patients? Would they have the time or the money to move the patient?

It seems Bangladesh has a health crisis in the making. With an exponential rise in infections, the public healthcare facilities are on the verge of being overrun as most Covid-19 dedicated hospitals in Dhaka are at capacity, in terms of ICU and general beds.

We are seeing families running from one hospital to another with critical patients after being turned away by hospitals.

This was not supposed to be.

The pandemic allowed us the time to take stock of the work that remained, and tie up loose ends, which we failed to do properly.

Over the last one year, the pandemic delivered an unprecedented blow to the economy and took at least 9,447 lives. It exposed the systematic ills plaguing our fragile healthcare system and brought to the fore many issues that we've long known existed, like healthcare disparities and poor investments.

It makes us wonder what lessons the healthcare authorities had learnt over the last one year. What measures had they taken to prepare for the healthcare emergency we are staring at now?

The aforementioned crises of ICU beds and oxygen supply are glaring examples of how slow the authorities had been to get a move on and be ready.

Had the healthcare authorities addressed some crucial issues, we might not have had to see the helplessness of families with critical patients seeking life-saving services.

Amid such a crisis, Health Minister Zahid Maleque's comment invokes despair and frustration at the same time.

He said if the infections keep rising as they have been, it would not be possible to treat everyone even if entire the Dhaka city was turned into a hospital.

Does it mean that we should stop building capacity for healthcare, ICU, central oxygen system that are required to fight the new surge?

The situation may look bleak but perhaps time has not run out. May be we can turn the tide, follow scientific methods, give our healthcare system due priority, give it proper budgetary allocation, and ensure good governance and management.

 

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