Emergency service providers lack safety gear

Ershad Kamol | Published: 00:08, Mar 26,2020


Emergency service providers have expressed deep concerns over their own health and safety while providing services during the 10-day ‘unofficial lockdown’ of the country beginning today as they did not get the required personal protective gears amid rising COVID-19 patients in  the country.

In random interviews, many field-level officials, health service providers, police and fire service members, cleaners and utility service providers told New Age on Tuesday that they were scared of being affected by the highly contagious life-threatening virus while ensuring quarantine of all affected people and providing services to millions across the country.

The cabinet division on Monday declared a local public health emergency and closure of all government and private offices, save for emergency service providers, to keep people inside homes between March 26 and April 4 following the official declaration of death of four people in COVID-19 and infection of 39 others. 

Several upazila nirbahi officers and police personnel, who are to ensure mandatory isolation of the coronavirus affected people in their residences, criticised their high officials for passing orders from head offices without providing sufficient safety gears for them.

‘Am I to buy personal protective gears that cost over Tk 1,000 for doing my office job?’ a police constable posted in Sylhet asked.

Several police members in the capital said that they were concerned over their own safety measures against the virus that can survive for several hours in the air and for a few days on metal surfaces.

‘The authorities just gave us some masks. I don’t know whether it is enough to keep the body protected from the virus or not. But I know I will have to patrol day and night for the security of the people,’ an assistant sub-inspector posted at Matijheel police station said.

Scavengers and workers union general secretary M Abdul Latif said that they had been demanding for safety gears and sanitisers from the Dhaka South City Corporation authorities for the past two weeks.

‘But, masks and hand gloves have arrived only today. We think these gears are  not enough,’ Latif told New Age on Tuesday.

‘Many cleaners are so scared that they were not willing to go out of their own homes for providing services,’ he added.

Emergency service providing employees of Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage, and Authority and Dhaka Power Distribution Company said that their offices did not provide them with sufficient gloves, masks and sanitisers but asked them to be on duty for providing services in case any emergency during the shutdown.

But, many service seekers expressed concern over receiving emergency services at hospitals and medical centres during the holidays as doctors and nurses were not attending formal flu or pneumonia patients fearing that they were affected by coronavirus.

They also said that garbage pickers had already told them that they would not take wastes coming from homes during the holidays.

The public health experts are unhappy with the situation and they feel that the government completely failed to address the coronavirus spread efficiently.

Co-convenor of Shasthya Andolon Farida Akhter said that the government failed to realise possible outcome of the coronavirus and the immensity of its threat on public health in the past three months.

‘It turned the coronavirus issue into a political one due to the scheduled March 17 programme and put public health under serious threat,’ she said.

‘If the government fail to sensitise people against possible threats and cannot carry out its duties while fighting the new disease, it is quite natural that fear would spread among people whatever profession they are in,’ she said.

As a result, she said, intern doctors at Khulna Medical College observed work abstention, a patient died unattended at Dhaka Medical College and an ambulance driver of Jhenaidah Hospital refused to carry a coronavirus suspect to Kurmitola Hospital in Dhaka.

‘Everybody has the right to be concerned over his or her own safety and it all depends on the skills of the government as to how the country will manage the situation and bring back confidence among the general people and a sense of responsibility to the service providers,’ she said.

Many countries announced special health insurance packages for emergency service providers while they ensured basic amenities to the general public for free to keep them confined to their homes with the aim of mitigating the coronavirus crises. 

Former Bangladesh Medical Association president Rashid-e-Mahbub said that all doctors, nurses, medical staff, government officials and police personnel who directly deal with affected or suspected COVID-19 patients must be provided with sufficient personal protective gears.

‘All year round, the cleaners must be provided gumboots, gloves and other protective gears,’ he said.

Directorate General of Health Services director Aminul Islam claimed that sufficient personal protective gears had been supplied to all government hospitals and clinics and doctors, nurses and staff members had been sanitised to deal with the normal patients in the current situation.

Health minister Zahid Maleque on Monday, however, said that personal protection gears were not essential for the healthcare providers of COVID-19 patients. 

DPDC deputy general manager Shamimul Haque said that the agency provided sufficient sanitisers, hand gloves and masks to the employees who would give service in case of any emergency power cut.

Local government and rural development minister Md Tajul Islam said that emergency service providers at the city corporations, municipalities, union parishads and the WASA were provided with required masks and gloves.

‘We will discuss possibility of announcing any required insurance package for them,’ he said.

‘Despite limitations, protective equipment like masks have been distributed among field officials. They have also been trained for their safety,’ said Md Sohel Rana, assistant inspector general (media) of police headquarters.    

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