As a large number of government tertiary hospitals are now dedicated to COVID-19 treatment, people suffering from common diseases find that their access to healthcare is shrinking.
Tertiary hospitals are considered the last resort for general patients from across the country and known for attending patients many times their capacity round the year.
The coronavirus emergency has compelled the government to already dedicate six major tertiary hospitals for COVID-19 treatment with two others being prepared for the same purpose.
In preparing the COVID-19 hospitals the government already moved dozens of emergency patients to other hospitals and released scores of others overnight as people infected with highly contagious coronavirus cannot be treated alongside general patients.
‘The government is faced with multipronged challenges,’ said former Bangladesh Medical Association president Rashid-e-Mahbub.
‘After ensuring enough hospitals for COVID-19 treatment the government must also ensure uninterrupted healthcare services to general patients as well,’ he said.
Rashid and other health experts feared that the decline in the number of government hospitals treating general patients would increase people’s dependence on private hospitals, which would affect their healthcare expenditures.
If the government does not take special measures to keep treatment affordable for general patients many of them may be forced to skip regular treatment, they said.
After the government ordered Mugda Medical College Hospital to prepare for COVID-19 treatment on April 16, the hospital authorities released 108 patients on April 19 in order to make room for COVID-19 patients.
Only the critically ill 38 patients were referred to Dhaka Medical College Hospital by the Mugda hospital.
‘We are particularly worried about the health of about 250 dialysis patients visiting the hospital every week,’ said MP Saber Hossain Chowdhury, who is also chairman of the management committee of Mugda Medical College Hospital.
People undergoing dialysis at government hospitals spend maximum Tk 500 per dialysis while the cost of the same treatment at private hospital could be up to Tk 5,000, said Saber.
The Mugda hospital authorities have written to the health services directorate to pay for the sudden increase in healthcare expenses of their regular dialysis patients.
‘We have proposed that the government negotiate with private hospitals an affordable dialysis cost and pay it for the patients,’ said Saber.
With the recent inclusion of the Mugda hospital, the government has arranged for 1,900 beds in seven tertiary hospitals for COVID-19 treatment.
The authorities of Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital evacuated nearly the entire 850-bed hospital before the government backtracked on its decision to dedicate the hospital for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, said the Suhrawardy hospital director Uttam Kumar Barua.
The outpatient attendance at Suhrawardy hospital during normal times is over 5,000 every day which fell to less than 1,000 after the breakout of coronavirus infections in early March.
The outpatient department at the hospital has been closed for about a week since the government decided to turn it into a COVID-19 hospital on April 16.
The government has also backtracked on its decision of opening the gates of 500-bed specialised hospital of Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery to COVID-19 patients.
The institute’s coordinator Samanta Lal Sen had written to the government that they did not have anywhere to transfer 10 of their patients in the intensive care unit and two others on ventilators.
The other major tertiary hospitals turned COVID-19 treatment facility included the 500-bed Kurmitola General Hospital.
The latest government health bulletin showed that 9,30,745 patients visited the Kurmitola hospital alone in 2018.
The government has 43 tertiary hospitals which are always overwhelmed with patients with a combined capacity of more than 21,000 beds.
A large number of liver patients visit the tertiary hospitals every day. The government health bulletin said that tertiary hospitals record more than 20,000 deaths a year because of liver ailments.
‘The government must ensure adequate treatment for patients displaced from tertiary hospital by COVID-19 emergency,’ said Rashid.
He said that the government might consider turning private hospitals running on own staff to COVID-19 hospitals.
The government so far included three private hospitals with 150 beds for COVID-19 treatment.
The number of coronavirus positive patients visiting hospitals is likely to increase with several hundred new cases confirmed every day.
Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research said that only 30 per cent of 7,103 people infected so far are receiving treatment at COVID-19 hospitals.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Country