At least a dozen people with different illnesses died in Dhaka and other places after they were refused treatment by doctors since March 8 when the first case of coronavirus was reported in the country.
Experts said a sense of insecurity caused by the persisting shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) among healthcare professionals should be blamed for the situation.
Besides, the lack of well-prepared facilities for Covid-19 patients left healthcare professionals exposed to the risk of getting infected, they said.
The health ministry on March 25 warned doctors of punishment if they did not treat patients. The ministry ordered doctors to treat patients with Covid-19-like symptoms even if they didn't have the PPEs. The ministry withdrew the notice on March 27 amid widespread criticism.
Doctors have been working sincerely since the government started supplying PPEs to different hospitals across the country, according to representatives of healthcare professionals.
The attendance, however, is still low and the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has no data because it suspended the finger print-based office attendance monitoring recently, insiders said.
Only 15 of 573 government hospitals are sending attendance data to the DGHS, officials said.
In nine of those hospitals, only 2.46 percent employees went to work while the rate is only 2.03 percent in six medical college hospitals.
In a meeting via video conference yesterday, the DG of DGHS Prof Abul Kalam Azad asked all divisional directors and civil surgeons to take action against the absenteeism.
"Healthcare personnel have been frightened. We have increased the supply of PPEs for their protection. We are working on it," Belal Hossain, director (admin) at DGHS, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, former World Health Organisation regional adviser for Southeast Asia, said, "We have to bear in mind that the healthcare professionals are also people like others. Their fear is logical; they are the most vulnerable group in this health emergency. We have to ensure enough PPEs for them first."
As of yesterday, the DGHS has supplied 3,57,250 PPEs to government hospitals, according to the Covid-19 control room.
Nirupom Das, spokesperson for Bangladesh Doctors Foundation, said, "Doctors are returning to work because there are PPEs. Many hospitals have prepared isolation wards and dedicated employees to treat Covid-19 patients."
He added that more PPEs would be needed.
To treat Covid-19 patients, hospitals have dedicated 4,600 beds, said Aminul Islam, director (hospitals and clinics) of DGHS.
Prof Nazrul Islam, former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said, "The government's latest initiatives will boost confidence among healthcare professionals."
Prof Selim Reza, president of BCS Health Cadre Association, said, "The problem is, the symptoms of Covid-19 are like the common cold. After the government started supplying PPEs, the doctors have started seeing patients."