THE COVID-19 outbreak appears to have further exposed the vulnerability and weakness of public health. People’s right to health care is now largely denied with no effective action on part of the government. A civic group’s report on human rights during the outbreak records at least 122 death caused by treatment refusal since the first reported COVID-19 death. Families of the deceased have related their ordeal of hospital admission. The government has issued a series of directives for private-sector healthcare providers, but it has failed to ensure that the directives are followed. While the government is trying to shift the blame on the private sector, media reports show a similar negligence and failure in public hospitals too. In reality, the first widely reported case of death from medical negligence took place in Dhaka Medical College Hospital on March 15. Public health experts are, therefore, not wrong when they say that the government response to COVID-19 lacked a clear vision of how to prepare the health system for an outbreak and people continue to pay the price for it.
Amidst widespread allegations of treatment refusal for patients with COVID-19-like symptoms and non-COVID patients, the government on April 30 asked healthcare facilities with 50 or more beds to arrange for the treatment of patients with COVID-19-like symptoms. As the novel coronavirus infection increased, hospital authorities, more in the private sector, began to demand COVID-19-negative certificates from patients before attending the health emergency. This situation put the elderly or anyone with chronic condition at grave risk. Such certification appears to have become a phenomenon that healthcare providers burden the patients with at a time when people reportedly need to wait for a month for COVID-19 tests. The government on May 11 warned hospital authorities saying that treatment refusal may result into licences being cancelled. In the most recent directive on May 24, the government asked all healthcare providers to set up separate units for COVID-19 patients, patients with COVID-19-like symptoms and non-COVID-19 patients. The directives made no impact as people continued to suffer. Health officials justified the government’s inaction saying that they are giving time for hospitals to get ready. The response is unacceptable because if the government had asked hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients in a systematic way, many of the death could have been prevented.
Bangladesh had a considerable period of time to work out a comprehensive response plan for the outbreak, but the government appears to have played down the risks. It is still not too late to implement such plans in all hospitals keeping to the World Health Organisation guidelines. No one should die because of treatment refusal.
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