As the country's healthcare system has turned its main focus on breaking the tide of coronavirus pandemic, many patients with non-Covid health problems, especially those who have comorbidities, are passing through a harrowing time being 'deprived of' urgent medical attention they need.

The ailing people and their worried relatives are running from one hospital to another for having access to medical service while critical patients are embracing deaths before receiving the treatment as there is 'no plan' on how to offer treatment to or conduct diagnoses for non-Covid-19 patients during this corona crisis, some sufferers told UNB sharing their ordeals.

They said many critical patients are being turned away by both the public and private hospitals due to 'mismanagement', doctors' excessive precaution and obsession with personal safety, the fear of infection of the virus and also for lack of manpower.

Even, patients with underlying health conditions having no Covid-19 test results are referred to the hospitals designated for treating corona patients, putting them in a precarious position.

Many non-coronavirus patients are also being deprived of regular checkup and treatment as many senior doctors are declining to attend the patients to avoid the virus transmission while premier hospitals like Dhaka Medical College (DMCH), Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), Kurmitola and Mughdha general hospitals are giving the main focus on testing corona and dealing with such patients.

The situation turned so worse that even additional secretary Gautam Aich Sarker died at Kurmitola General Hospital with kidney problem on Saturday after having failed to get admission after trying at around a dozen non-Covid public and private hospitals.

Gautam's daughter Sushmita Aich, a doctor who works at the government's 333 helpline for medical advice, said she tried to have her father admitted to all the most big public and private hospitals, including BSMMU, DMCH, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, United, Square, LABAID, Universal Medical College, and Anwar Khan Modern Medical College Hospitals, but they refused to do so showing various excuses.

Sushmita said, "My father badly needed ICU support, but we couldn't provide him it. He died for lack of treatment. Despite being a doctor, I couldn't do anything for him."

She said all the hospitals wanted to see her father's test report to be sure that he had not contarcted the virus. "When I failed ensure treatment for my father being a doctor you can assume how difficult it's for other non-corona patients to get access to healthcare under the current situation."

Daughter of a freedom fighter, Almas Uddin, a resident of the city's Bashabo area, also shared almost the similar experience as her father died without treatment after suffering a brain haemorrhage at the end of March.

She said they took her father to Anwar Khan Medical College, Bangladesh Specialised Hospital, Birdem General Hospital, Suhrawardy and Popular Medical College and two Covid hospitals only to be turned away.

After a long struggle and sincere efforts by some freedom fighters and local Awami League leaders, Almas had been admitted to Mugdha Medical College and Hospital where he died hours later for lack of proper treatment.

"I won't forget the sufferings my father had gone through. He was kept in an ambulance for long hours being denied admission to different hospitals. I wish no one faces such sufferings and dies for lack of treatment," Almas' daughter said wishing anonymity.

Aman Ullha, a 70-year-old medicine shop trader of Kashipur village in Naryangonj's Fatullah, recently fell sick with high fever.

"We took my father to a doctor's chamber in Naryanganj city, and after some diagnoses it was found that he had lung infections," Aman's daughter Shormi Mahmud told UNB.

As per the doctor's advice, she said, they took her father to Naryanganj General Hospital and some clinics but they denied providing him treatment suspecting that he was infected with coronavirus.

"With the help of a journalist, we brought him to IEDCR in the capital's Mohakhali from where he was admitted to Uttara Kuwait Moitree Hospital as a corona suspect," Shormi said adding that her mother was also admitted to the hospital mainly to look after her septuagenarian husband.

However, Amanullah was shifted to Birdem Hospital three days later as he was tested negative for the virus. "My mother was found positive for the virus. Now both are fine and released from the hospitals, but we had to suffer a lot to ensure treatment for them."

Contacted, DMCH Principal Prof Khan Abul Kalam Azad admitted that many non-corona patients are finding it hard to get access to healthcare due to the pressure of the Covid-19 patients. "As we've set up a corona unit, we now can't give the service what we used to provide earlier for precaution, shortage of manpower and some other reasons. We urge non-corona patients to choose other hospitals for treatment until the situation improves."

BSMMU treasurer Prof Dr Mohammed Atiqur Rahman it is usual that patients with other health problems have been sufferings as the hospitals are under tremendous pressure to deal with the corona-infected ones amid the infection of some doctors and nurses.

He said many hospitals and doctors are showing unwillingness to treat other the patients in fear of transmission of the virus. "We've seen many patients having no symptom tested positive for the virus after their admission. So, hospitals and doctors now hesitate to take patients without test results."

Atiqur said many patients are also not coming to hospitals for treatment in fear of contracting corona. "The number of patients with underlying health conditions like heart, kidney and lung problems has declined sharply at all hospitals, not only in Bangladesh, but also in parts of the world."

He advised patients to avail of telemedicine services and remain in touch with their doctors.

Prof Dr Harun-or-Rashid, head of medicine department at Dhaka Community Medical College and Hospital (DCMCH), said hospitals should have a plan on how to run treatment or diagnosis for non-Covid-19 patients.

"I think it should be a general principle for all hospitals that they won't turn away any patient. They will attend all the patients until they aren't extremely overwhelmed. We shouldn't let other patients die for saving corona-infected ones," he observed.

Dr Harun said a sense of insecurity has gripped doctors as they are not yet equipped properly and given the necessary and quality PPEs. "This problem should be addressed to encourage doctors to treat all patients."

Ministry's Directives

Amid such widespread allegations, the Health Ministry on Tuesday issued three directives to ensure the treatment of non-Covid patients at all hospitals across the country.

All private hospitals/clinics should have separate arrangements for the treatment of Covid-19 suspects.

Despite having treatment facilities at hospitals/clinics, emergency patients must not be denied treatment. In the case of referring patients, the authorities must consult Covid Hospital Control Room of Directorate General of Health Services to ensure the patients' proper treatment.

The patients who have been receiving various treatments, including kidney dialysis, for a long time must be given treatment if they are not infected with Covid-19.

If any government or private hospital of the country does not follow the directives, necessary action will be taken, including revoking license, against them as per the existing provision.

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