Healthcare providers continued to sound alarm over very high rates of infection and death caused by the coronavirus among them as the government has been struggling to contain the virus prevalence over three and a half months into its emergence.
Healthcare professional bodies have complained that their members continue to work in dangerous conditions at hospitals not designed to deal with this highly contagious virus without proper protection.
They said that the personal protective equipment that the government provided them with was largely substandard and inadequate as they worked long hours wearing infected gowns or mask or gloves.
‘Among the South Asian nations Bangladesh has the highest percentage of infected health workers,’ Bangladesh Medical Association secretary general Ehteshamul Haque Chowdhury told New Age.
About 5,000 healthcare workers contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, until Friday, according to the BMA, the national association of medical doctors.
The sick healthcare workers account for almost four per cent of the total infected population in Bangladesh.
The BMA pointed out that in other South Asian countries about three per cent healthcare workers on average got infected.
So far, 53 doctors have died of the coronavirus, over 3 per cent of the deaths caused by the virus in Bangladesh, which is also one of the highest rates at which doctors died in fighting COVID-19, said Ehtesham.
Health secretary MD Abdul Mannan said that there had been some irregularities in the purchase of PPE which was being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
‘We are careful in preventing any such irregularities from recurring,’ said Mannan.
He said that the government was making new purchases fulfilling certain international standards.
After the coronavirus emerged in the country in early March, the health minister remarked that it was not necessary for healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients to wear PPE.
Faced with widespread criticism the government started supplying PPE in April but it soon turned out what the government was distributing was substandard and eventually became the subject of an anti-corruption probe.
‘The government trying to pass ordinary masks as N95 ones dealt the first blow to our health workers,’ said Ehtesham.
‘A huge number of physicians and other healthcare workers fell sick of the virus in the first two months,’ he said.
He said that nearly 2,000 physicians fell sick across Bangladesh.
In the initial days patients concealing coronavirus symptoms as they received treatment for ordinary diseases is also believed to be a cause of the rapid spread of the virus among physicians, said Ehtesham.
Mugda Medical College and Hospital deputy director Abul Hashem Sheikh warned that the rate of infection among healthcare workers remained steadily high.
Mugda was a later inclusion as a dedicated COVID-19 hospital that began operation 66 days ago since when 72 doctors, 84 nurses and 51 other staffs contracted the viral disease there.
‘I highly doubt that the quality of government supplied protective gear has improved,’ said Hashem Sheikh, a COVID-19 survivor.
A health worker at the Mugda hospital gets four KN95 masks to use through a month and only one single-time use PPE for working eight hours every day.
The standard practice is to change PPE between attending patients infected with highly contagious viruses in hospital settings where automated negative ventilation sucks the inside air out every few minutes to reduce health workers’ exposure to the aerosolised virus.
The standard practice was compromised during the current pandemic almost everywhere in the world but many countries kept their health workers relatively protected by ensuring that they had quality protective gears to wear.
Dhaka Medical College virology department head Sultana Shahana Banu said that they were not at all satisfied with the quality of the PPE being used, especially masks that they are provided with for working at a critical place like the coronavirus testing laboratory.
‘Even the KN95 masks the government provided to DMCH so far were fake,’ she said.
As physicians’ doubt over PPE quality persists, yet another scandal has hit the government with media reporting that the government has recently supplied protective gowns to government doctors that are not meant to be used in treating COVID-19 patients.
Communicable Disease Control director Shahnila Ferdousi, who is responsible for determining the quality of the gowns supplied to the government hospitals, said that she never checked their quality.
‘They never brought it to me for determining its quality,’ said Shahnila.
‘There is no shortage of PPE at the moment. The shortage in supply may be because of lack of coordination,’ she said.
She said that the government did not have the scope to check the quality of PPE in many cases because they were donated by trusted organisations.
Sultana Shahana Banu said that every COVID-19 hospital should have proper waste disposal and dedicated infection control unit to monitor proper maintenance of precautions.
‘Waste not properly disposed and wrong donning and doffing of PPE is suspected to be another major source of infection among healthcare workers,’ she said.
Bangladesh Nurses Association president Ismat Ara Parvin said that 1,435 nurses were already suffering from COVID-19 and many others were in isolation.
She said that the real number could be double or even more because many of the 72,000 nurses working at private hospitals where the coronavirus positive nurses were sacked and sent back home right away.
‘Many of our nurses still do not get to wear masks and gloves,’ she said.
Five nurses have died of COVID-19 so far, she said.
Bangladesh Medical Technologists Association president Almas Ali Khan said that 1,340 of their 3,000 colleagues at the dedicated government COVID-19 hospitals were already infected until June 16.
‘Nobody goes as close to COVID-19 patients as we do. And yet what protective gear we are given are just making a mockery of our lives,’ he said.
The BMTA said that two medical technologists died until June 16.
Last week a Bangladesh Health Watch survey revealed that 24 per cent frontline health workers, including doctors and nurses, fighting the coronavirus were yet to get PPE.
The survey said that 44 per cent of the surveyed healthcare workers had doubts about the quality of the PPE they wore.
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