According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), three out of 16 hospitals designated for Covid-19 treatment in capital don’t have ICU facility. As of Saturday, no ICU was vacant at eight of these 13 hospitals while and 65 beds were vacant at the remaining five hospitals.

Covid-19 situation has worsened in various districts since the Delta variant of coronavirus spread during the second wave of the pandemic. Incidents of patients dying due to lack of ICU support or no facility at all at the district hospitals came to the fore. The scenario has started to turn similar in the capital now. Authorities at the capital’s three largest hospitals – Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), Mugda Medical College Hospital and Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital – said about 50 per cent of Covid-19 receiving treatment at these hospitals were from outside Dhaka.

ICU beds have always been fully occupied with 15-20 patients in wait. In many cases, patients are brought to the hospital in a critical condition, requiring emergency ICU support. But the patients die at one stage due to lack of ICU facilities.

The vice principal of Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital and coordinator of Covid-19 treatment, professor Shahadat Hosssain told Prothom Alo no ICU bed hasn’t been vacant for a month with 15-20 patients waiting to receive ICU treatment. If a patient is released from ICU or a patient dies, another patient is being taken in immediately. And it can’t be denied that patients have died waiting for ICU support, he added.

Prothom Alo’s two correspondents visited these three hospitals on Saturday to see the state of patient treatment. They spoke to Covid patients and their relatives coming from Dhaka and outside the capital as well as the hospitals’ physicians. As of Saturday, not a single one of 54 ICU beds were vacant at these three hospitals while 164 out 1,318 general beds were vacant.

Waiting for ICU

Building No. 2 of Dhaka Medical College Hospital is the designated unit for Covid-19 treatment. As many as 17 ambulances were seen bringing patients to this unit between 10:30am and 2:00pm on Saturday. These patients suffer from Covid-19 or show symptoms or have various respiratory troubles.

All but two patients were admitted to the hospital. Those two patients required ICU support but they were turned back since no ICU bed was vacant at the hospital. Two patients with critical condition were also seen leaving the DMCH due to shortage of ICU support.

Rabeya Khanam had been suffering from severe respiratory problem and breathing through oxygen cylinder. She required an emergency ICU support, but hadn’t got it at the DMCH for last three days. She left the DMCH for Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital by an ambulance at 3:00pm on Saturday.

Lutfar Rahman, son of Rabeya Khanam, told Prothom Alo they are from Brahmanbaria's Nabinagar upazila. Her mother was first admitted to BIRDEM with Covid-19 symptoms where she tested positive for coronavirus. As her condition deteriorated, she required an ICU support but there was no vacancy at the DMCH ICU.

An elderly person, Narayan was seen being carried away from the DMCH’s corona unit to an ambulance around 1:30am on Saturday. Relatives said physicians advised him being shifted to another hospital since there is no vacant ICU bed at the DMCH. They were shifting Narayan to Suhrawardy Hospital now.

Mirza Mithun was crying in front of the Suhrawardy Hospital’s corona unit around 3:00pm on Saturday. His uncle Alamagir Hossain died a while ago. Mirza Mithun told Prothom Alo, “Uncle had Covid-19 symptoms. He was brought to the hospital on Friday night. As his health deteriorated, physicians advised ICU support for him. We had searched for an ICU bed frantically but no ICU bed was found vacant.”

According to the DGHS, there are 1,291 ICU beds for Covid-19 patients at government and private hospitals across the country. As of Saturday, 1,005 patients were receiving treatment at ICU facilities. There are 393 ICU beds at government hospitals in Dhaka city. As of Saturday, 65 ICU beds were vacant, including 44 beds at the DNCC Covid-19 hospital.

The Mugda Medical College Hospital has 24 ICU beds. The hospital authorities said they had to turn away incoming patients in critical condition. All admitted patients were requiring oxygen. As many as 309 Covid-19 patients were receiving treatment at the hospital as of Saturday.

Director of Mugda Medical College Hospital Ashim Kumar Nath told Prothom Alo, “The ICU and the HDU (high dependency unit) have been full of patients for the last three weeks. Once an ICU bed falls vacant, another critical patient replaces it immediately. Many requires ICU support, but we can’t provide it.”

Rise in outside patients at Dhaka hospitals

Seventy-five-year-old Siru Laskar from Narshingdi’s Shibpur upazila admitted to Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital for cardiac problem. He tested positive for Covid-19. Siru Laskar along with his son Al-Amin Laskar was seen waiting for admission at the hospital’s Covid unit around 2:00pm on Saturday. Al-Amin said his father is suffering from breathing problems. As his father tested positive for coronavirus, he has been shifted to the Covid unit from another ward.

Sixty-year-old Anwara Begum suffered from diabetics, high blood pressure and heart problems. She underwent treatment at a hospital in Nabinagar upazila of Brahmanbaria. She was brought to Dhaka Medical College Hospital on Saturday noon. Her daughter Shahnaz Begum said since her mother’s health condition poor, they have come to Dhaka as per physician’s consultation.

Director of Dhaka Medical College Hospital Brigadier General Nazmul Haque told Prothom Alo more than half of the patients, currently admitted, are from outside Dhaka. Most of them are requiring high flow nasal cannula. Pressure of patients isn’t met even after raising the number of the hospital beds. If 40 patients are released in the morning, another 80 patients are seen awaiting admission in the afternoon.

Authorities at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital said its oxygen transmission line is taking pressure since all incoming patients are requiring oxygen. Patients are being treated with 107 high flow nasal cannulas plus 8-10 patients die of Covid-19 at the hospital daily.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina in June last year directed setting up of intensive care unit (ICU) at all district hospitals but after 13 months, 36 districts still remain without ICU facility. M Mahbub Alam, 70, is from Narsingdi, one of these districts. He tested positive for Covid-19 and was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital with respiratory trouble on 8 July. He has been requiring 15 litres of oxygen.

The member of national technical advisory committee for Covid-19 and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo, “There is no ICU facility in 36 districts to date. Where will the patients of those districts go? Pressure is on the rise as they are coming to Dhaka. This is the consequence of the DGHS’s negligence in patient management. Even if a patient dies waiting for ICU, the health department isn’t held accountable."

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna

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