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The Financial Express

Coronavirus: BD ill-prepared to fight potential outbreak

Saif Uddin and SM Najmus Sakib | Published: February 08, 2020 10:08:44 | Updated: February 28, 2020 12:20:45


An isolation unit has been opened on the ground floor of Unit-2 of Dhaka Medical College Hospital in the city for handling any possible coronavirus outbreak — FE photo An isolation unit has been opened on the ground floor of Unit-2 of Dhaka Medical College Hospital in the city for handling any possible coronavirus outbreak — FE photo

Bangladesh's healthcare system remains inadequately prepared to cope with the potential outbreak of fatal coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 600 people.

While state-backed hospitals have taken precautionary measures to respond to the novel virus, no such steps are visible in their private peers who have received hardly any government advice.

Visits to several city hospitals, the FE correspondents found the display of warning messages on their premises about the virus that broke out in China whose Wuhan City was the epicentre.

Dhaka Medical College Hospital director A K M Nasir Uddin said the hospital authority has set up a seven-bed specialised ward in case the virus is detected in the country.

"We have readied a seven-bed specialised, isolated ward on the ground floor of the DMCH-2 to tackle the potential outbreak," he said.

The setup is a high-dependency unit, which is equipped with providing all required support.

A pool of doctors and nurses has also been kept standby for the unit.

Besides, another large unit on the basement of the hospital's emergency building has been readied where over 100 people can get medicare services, he said, expressing the hope the virus is unlikely to enter Bangladesh.

Vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, or BSMMU, Professor Kanak Kanti Barua said the university will not house any separate unit on its premises to avoid mass infection.

"We've decided not to set up any isolated ward or a separate unit at the BSMMU, as the infection might create a catastrophic impact," he said, adding that around 1,500-1,600 patients get admitted to the university hospital a day.

If any case of coronavirus is detected in the country, the infected persons should be taken to the isolation units set up by the government in other hospitals, he said.

The BSMMU has taken measures to create awareness about the virus among people and strengthen the hospital's sanitation, he said.

"We've already formed a committee to decide on the needed steps, which will define Standard Operating Procedure within a short time," said Mr Barua, a neurosurgeon by training.

Healthcare people said the government has installed two isolation units in the city's Kurmitola General Hospital and Dhaka Infectious Disease Hospital.

Several private hospital executives said they have taken the issue into consideration, but have not received any government directives.

Currently, the diagnosis facility of the virus is only available at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, or IEDCR.

The institute is also working on an especial healthcare guideline apart from setting up "isolation units" in medical centres to fight the possible attack, officials said.

Director of the institute Prof. Dr. Meerjady Sabrina Flora told the FE that especial isolation units are being set up in all district hospitals and government-run hospitals in and out of Dhaka as a pre-cautionary measure to contain the virus that has spread to dozens of countries infecting over 31,000 people.

"A treatment guideline has already been finalised to provide healthcare institutes. And, gradually we are arranging necessary trainings and workshops to train up local doctors, nurses and healthcare staffers to this effect," she added.

Hospital authorities have been asked to facilitate the especial isolation units with at least five beds and a additional single bed isolation unit equipped with intensive care unit so that the proper treatment can be provided.

The IEDCR central team comprises officials from the World Health Organisation to get updated information about the virus, she noted.

Currently, there is no treatment for people infected with coronavirus and physicians provide symptomatic treatment such as medication for fever, cough and cold.

Principal scientific officer of thge IEDCR Dr A S M Alamgir told the FE that there is no need to get panicked as Bangladesh is still free from this viral infection.

The IEDCR has launched four hotlines for creating awareness among people about the epidemic. The numbers are: 01937110011, 01937000011, 01927711784 and 01927711785.

People familiar with the situation said that the existing setup was not enough to check the virus at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, where screening of people arriving from countries like China was not be done accordingly.

Besides, there was no isolation queue, especially at the thermal scanner placed at passageways for those who fly from abroad.

Health sector insiders have no clear idea about the government's preparations.

Rights activist Dr. Rashid-e-Mahbub said it is difficult to say whether the preparation the country has taken is adequate or inadequate.

"As the virus hasn't entered Bangladesh yet, the government should focus more on creating awareness about the disease among people," he said.

He is against involving the private healthcare providers in offering such services because the virus is highly contagious.

saif.febd@gmail.com; nsrafsanju@gmail.com

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