The Directorate General of Health Service (DGHS) has been waiting to receive new data on deaths caused by the novel coronavirus before deciding on the next steps to bring down the number of COVID-19 deaths in the country.
However, experts said, it would not be right to wait for the review as six months have passed since the outbreak of the virus. They said it would be wise to put the data that are readily available to good use.
The issue of deaths due to coronavirus was discussed at a meeting of DGHS officials on 28 August with eight members of the Public Health Advisory Committee. According to the draft minutes of the meeting, acting director general of the directorate Abul Basar Mohammad Khurshid Alam wanted to know the reason for the increase in deaths in coronavirus. He also wanted to know from the experts whether the deaths have been occurred due to coronavirus infections or any other diseases.
Abul Basar Mohammad Khurshid Alam told Prothom Alo on Wednesday, "We are continuing our efforts to ensure better treatment in the hospital. Even then, we have taken initiative to find out the cause of death from the experts. We will take necessary steps accordingly.”
The minutes of the 28 August meeting show that the Public Health Advisory Committee submitted a research project to review coronavirus deaths to the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) on 17 August for policy approval. It says it will review data from a total of 600 patients, 60 from each of the country's 10 hospitals.
Sources in the DGHS said that the officials of the department have started work for the policy approval of the BMRC. Abu Jamil Faisal, a public health expert and a member of the Public Health Advisory Committee told Prothom Alo, "With the approval of the BMRC, we will be able to complete the death review within a month and a half."
People in the country now seem to overcome the fear of the infection. But the deaths in the virus remain high. The DGHS said 35 more people had died on Wednesday. So far 4,351 people have died in the country.
However, so far the government has not taken any specific initiative to reduce the death toll. Experts have long advised the DGHS to take steps to reduce or prevent deaths but to no avail.
Khan Abul Kalam Azad, principal of Dhaka Medical College, told Prothom Alo, "It is not possible to predict anything about COVID-19. However, those who are older, those who are suffering from other diseases, those who are coming to the hospital late or those who are not getting oxygen in time are at higher risk of death.”
Mugda Medical College Hospital reviewed 93 deaths. Several reports have been published in the media about this. The review tried to analyse the timing of deaths. A total of 11 died within one to two hours of arriving at the hospital, and 22 more died within the first 24 hours. Besides, 12 people died within 48 hours after admitting to the hospital while six died after three days. The rest died within 4 to 15 days.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) is also working on a death review. An official of IEDCR wishing to remain anonymous told Prothom Alo that the researchers of the institute were reviewing the documents of more than 550 deaths from different hospitals. He did not say when the review would finish.
Mirzadi Sebrina, a former director of IEDCR, started the review. She is now the Additional Director General of the DGHS.
A public health expert, who did not want to be named, said the DGHS needed to consider how to use the data from the two government agencies.
Speaking to multiple physicians and a specialist at Dhaka and Mugda Medical Colleges, it was learned that a section of patients receiving treatment at home were coming to the hospital after their condition worsened. Their risk of death is high.
Besides, some hospitals delay to provide oxygen and other services in the emergency department, which later leads to death. Taking the wrong medicine or overdose can also cause death. In addition, patients die due to lack of necessary medical equipment, especially oxygen assistance, when transferring patients from one hospital to another.
Ahmedul Kabir, secretary general of Bangladesh Medicine Society, told Prothom Alo, “It is already very late. It will take a long time to use the information after the death review with the approval of BMRC. We have to take initiative on how to use the information of Dhaka medical and Mugda medical quickly. That will be the effective way.”
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat