THE government’s announcement of Tuesday for financial security for health service providers offering care and treatment for patients in the COVID-19 outbreak, which has since March 8 infected 218 people and left 20 dead, is welcome at a time when physicians and nurses are mostly working with inadequate personal protective equipment against the novel coronavirus. Interns of Jalalabad Ragib-Rabeya Medical College Hospital in Sylhet went on strike on March 24 demanding protective gear for all healthcare providers and asking authorities to take the liability for anyone getting infected with the virus in hospital. Healthcare providers made similar demands in other hospitals. Healthcare providers, as announced, will be put under a health insurance coverage ranging from Tk 5–10 lakh and the amount will be five times if anyone dies of COVID-19 while being in service. The announcement, which is a timely support to encourage physicians in this risky situation, however, appears vague with no explanation on how it will be executed.
The government has also sounded a warning against any health professionals refusing to treat patient over COVID-19 fears and said that such personnel will not only be excluded from the insurance coverage but also face consequences. The warning came against the backdrop of the death of a number of patients refused treatment over coronavirus fears. A University of Dhaka student, suffering from lung cancer, died on April 6 in his house after a number of hospitals in Dhaka refused to treat him. Patients with COVID-19-like symptoms have also been refused treatment in recent times as physicians and hospitals hesitated to take the risk. Since March 28, 70 people had died with COVID-19-like symptoms, many of whom were denied treatment. The government’s efforts to incentivise healthcare providers are, therefore, a constructive step. But monetary privilege without necessary protective gear will not, however, serve the purpose. Physicians must be reminded of their professional ethics but the government must also do its part by providing them with necessary supports. The warning will, otherwise, only demotivate the physicians in an already grim situation. Public health experts have also criticised the government for singularly blaming the physicians while sparing health services managers in the private sector. A large number of private hospitals have reportedly restricted services for patients; many have closed outpatient services. Health care in the private sector must also be now brought under the regulatory purview of the government.
When the physician-patient ratio is inadequate, which affects quality health services, it will be more difficult if the number of patient increases. The government must, therefore, immediately work out a mechanism to implement the financial incentives and arrange protective gear for physicians along with.
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