Bangladesh lacks preparation for tests, treatment for coronavirus

Two more cases detected as number of patients keeps rising 

Manzur H Maswood | Published: 00:32, Mar 18,2020 | Updated: 00:59, Mar 18,2020


Two more COVID-19 patients were identified in Bangladesh on Tuesday as the country’s hospitals and doctors appeared unprepared to tackle the coronavirus spread.

With the two new cases, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 patients rose to 10, although officials and experts said that the number of suspected cases was increasing with most of them going untested due to the scanty testing facilities.

With the coronavirus crisis unfolding, panic among the people is growing as public health experts said that the government lacked transparency in presenting the actual picture.

‘If the people are kept in the dark, then the actual risks cannot not be assessed and panic will spread,’ said World Health Organisation former adviser Muzaherul Huq.

Talking to New Age, he said that Bangladesh’s preparation to tackle a pandemic like the coronavirus outbreak was still almost zero.

Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Zafrullah Chowdhury said that the government should tell the truth to keep people informed.

‘It’s not a fault of Bangladesh that the coronavirus has entered the country, but the government should act now and speak the truth about the actual picture to keep people informed,’ he said. 

Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research director Meerjady Sabrina Flora on Tuesday said that two males, one returning from Italy and the other who came in contact with a man from the USA at his home, were found infected with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

The Italy returnee is in quarantine while the other man does not have a foreign travel history but was in contact with a man from the USA who had fever.

The man from the USA has already returned to that country, she said.

Bangladesh for the first time confirmed three COVID-19 patients on March 8. Two others were identified on March 14 and three more on March 16.

Among the people infected, five caught the disease locally and the others returned from different countries.

The government is saying that there is still nothing to worry about the novel coronavirus though it has  already spread to over 152 countries killing over 7,000 people and infecting over 1.73 lakh others.

IEDCR director Meerjady said that the COVID-19 infections still remained within family members of foreign returnees and that no community transmission was reported.

But the testing of suspected patients was conducted mostly on people who have recently gone abroad and their family members.

Some 20 people were tested from communities but none of them was tested positive, said Meerjady.

The World Health Organisation’s former regional adviser Muzaherul Huq said that testing merely 20 people in the country of 160 million could not confirm that the coronavirus did not spread to communities.

The tests should be carried out on methodologically selected people from different communities, he said.

Only the IEDCR is conducting tests in the country to diagnose COVID-19 but it runs short of the necessary kits, officials said, adding that about 1,700 kits were now in the IEDCR stock.

Meerjady said that more kits were in the pipeline and that it was a regular supply process.

Bangladesh has so far tested 326 cases although over 6.24 lakh people have entered the country since January 21, according to officials.

Muzaherul said that the WHO recommended adequate number of people be tested so that not a single case go undetected.

‘Bangladesh’s preparations for testing the coronavirus cases are insufficient and unavailable,’ he said.

He advised equipping big the hospitals and institutions across the country like Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital, Combined Military Hospital, ICDDR,B, Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Chattogram Medical College Hospital, Khulna Medical College Hospital, Rajshahi Medical College Hospital, Barishal Medical College Hospital, Bogura Medical College Hospital and Rangpur Medical College Hospital to test coronavirus.

‘When we have had the information about the trend of spreading the coronavirus in China, Italy, Iran and New York, we can assume that the densely populated Bangladesh and its capital Dhaka as well are at a greater risk of spreading the highly contagious virus,’ Muzaherul said.

‘We have to go for massive testing,’ he said.

Zafrullah Chowdhury of Gonoshasthaya Kendra said that it had developed kits to test the coronavirus infection with support from Singaporean experts.

‘It will cost merely Tk 200 for a test but unfortunately the government is not allowing us to market the kits and test at our hospital,’ he said.

The government’s preparations to treat the coronavirus infected patients are also questioned by the public health experts.

Doctors and nurses at different hospitals are refusing to provide treatment to patients if they have any foreign travel history.

Doctors and nurses at two major hospitals in the capital—Dhaka Medical College Hospital and Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital—reportedly denied treatment to such patients who had such travel history.

Health Services director for hospitals Aminul Islam said that they prepared 5,000 beds for coronavirus patients across the country.

He further said that the Kuwait Friendship Hospital was dedicated to treating the COVID-19 patients, adding that the capital’s Railway Hospital, Mohanagar General Hospital and Lalkuthi Hospital were too prepared for treating such patients.

Besides, 140 beds have been prepared at Dhaka Medical College Hospital and Mugda Medical College Hospital for dealing with COVID-19 patients, he said. 

But, Muzaherul said, the coronavirus treatment should be provided in isolation and at dedicated hospitals like Kuwait Friendship Hospital.

The Army Stadium, Ijtema ground in Turag and other isolated places should be converted to makeshift hospitals, as China did, for coronavirus patients, he went on.

The critical COVID-19 patients need to be placed in intensive care units but the country has merely around 500 ICU beds and 150 of them are allocated for COVID-19 patients, confirmed Aminul.

Muzaherul said that Bangladesh was still not prepared to ensure isolation, quarantine, hospitalisation and ICU facilities.

‘It’s not an offence that Bangladesh is not prepared for such a global pandemic like the coronavirus outbreak but now it requires intensified efforts,’ he remarked.

The quarantine of people coming from coronavirus-affected countries is going on in a haphazard manner, he added.

The government does not have any mechanism to monitor people in home quarantine as many of them roam freely, though they are required to stay isolated at home, said Muzaherul.

The IEDCR on Tuesday could not say how many people were now in home quarantine but said that currently 43 people remained in institutional quarantine at the government initiative.

Muzaherul said, ‘We have not prepared a single institutional isolation centre and a single quarantine facility yet and are allowing people to go home without being in quarantine after returning from abroad.’

Bangladesh has already restricted entry into the country from European countries.

Despite the government restrictions on in-bound travel from Monday, at least 8,668 people entered the country in the past 24 hours, according to the IEDCR daily update.

Zafrullah Chowdhury said that the government should seal the border with India and stop allowing people to enter the country.

He said that as the coronavirus patients were increasing in India, it’s high time to seal the border to keep the country’s people safe.

Although the government has announced mandatory home quarantine for all international arrivals for 14 days, reports from different districts said that the quarantine was not being observed.

‘We are exposing the whole nation to the risks of coronavirus infection by allowing people to go home freely after their return from abroad,’ Muzaherul said. 

As people are unaware of who have the potential to spread the virus, panic gripped people that they might become imminent victims of the coronavirus and have started buying and stocking daily essentials.

Commerce minister Tipu Munshi on Tuesday urged people not to stock foods as, he said, the food stock and supply were sufficient in the country and there was nothing to go on panic buying for.

The New Age correspondent in Rangpur reported that Rangpur divisional commissioner KM Tariqul Islam remained in home quarantine soon after he returned on Monday from his overseas trip.

Besides, four other people remained in home quarantine in the district, confirmed Rangpur deputy commissioner Asib Ahsan.

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