THE healthcare facilities installed urgently in 2020 to treat COVID-19 patients have remained dysfunctional at a time when the COVID-19 infection and mortality rates have had a surge. A large number of patients, including the elderly with co-morbidity, are reported to struggle for hospital admission as there is a constraining shortage of hospital beds and intensive care units amidst a growing infection that started declining in September 2020 to 2–3 per cent but started increasing in early March to about 22 per cent. The government dedicated a number of general hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients as the disease broke out in March 2020. The government also set up two isolation hospitals — at Bashundhara Convention Centre and the Dhaka North City Corporation market — reportedly spending about Tk 44 crore. While the Bashundhara Convention Centre hospital had been in operation till September 2020, the DNCC hospital never started work as the authorities left the task incomplete once the COVID-19 situation started improving in September 2020. The closing of the Bashundhara hospital and the non-completion of the DNCC hospital point to the government’s inefficiency and a lack of foresight in fighting the health emergency.
The Directorate General of Health Services seeks to explain that the Bashundhara hospital was closed as the number of patients was low there and the hospital incurred about Tk 60 lakh in losses a month while it did not complete the DNCC hospital fearing a similar fate. When the World Health Organisation and public health experts have for long been warned of further waves of the COVID-19 infection and serious consequences given new variants of the virus, the government coming to decide to close healthcare facilities exclusively designated for COVID-19 treatment on grounds of insignificant financial loss appears to be an absurd decision. It the hospitals had been in operation, they could have saved many lives and given a sense of relief in people who need hospital admission. A shortage of hospital beds and intensive care units has caused an increase in the number of COVID-19 death outside hospital in the past few days. All this suggests that the government has still not been able to chalk up effective COVID-19 response plans even though it has been fighting the disease for more than a year now. The government has faltered in taking effective steps both in implementing non-pharmaceutical preventive measures such as lockdown and ensuring COVID-19 treatment facilities.
The government must, therefore, take specific and early steps to allocate and set up more hospital beds and intensive care units to treat increasing number of patients. The health services managers, reported to be readying a 200-bed ICU facility at the DNCC hospital, must finish the task as early as possible. The health services authorities must also look into a proportionate allocation and installation of hospital beds, ICUs and other facilities across the country. Given the rising infection and mortality rates, the government must enhance healthcare facilities to respond to the emergency.
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