It is a perplexing and difficult time for patients anywhere in the globe, and Bangladesh is no exception. When it comes to COVID-19 positive patients, it parallels a “winter of despair” as quoted by famed British novelist Charles Dickens who has showed how human values come in conflict with the world’s brutality.
A newspaper report, published a few days back in an English daily, said a 45-year-old COVID-19 positive woman of Chattragram with life-threatening breathing problems was admitted to Max Hospital in the port city.
Jannatul Ferdous needed oxygen support for ten straight days and struggled to survive at the hospital that handed over a medical bill of Taka six lakh to her husband at the time of release. Haggling a lot, her family had to pay Taka 4.80 lakh before she got release.
Jannatul Ferdous is one of thousands of cases in major cities, including the capital Dhaka, paying high amounts to private clinics and hospitals for treatment. The catastrophic situation that presently leads to death and havoc generates the worst-case scenario in which families of the COVID-19 positive patients have been compelled to pay exorbitantly even after the deaths of their near and dear ones.
COVID-19 pandemic has hugely exposed gaps
in health services, demanding the need for
urgent attention and addressing healthcare
deficiencies and requirements
Media reports about exorbitant bills being realised in the private hospitals and clinics for hospital care of persons tested positive for covid-19 are fairly exposing profiteering mindset of the hospital owners even in this human crisis.
Signs of deviation from ethical ethos and exploiting the present situation to gain much more are prevalent in the private health sector, underscoring to set a cap on the fees that can be charged by the private hospitals.
With the increase of COVID-19 patients across the country, the number of patients needing oxygen has gone up, paying a heavy price. It seems there is none to gauze the deplorable state of a high proportion of citizens relying on subsistence income.
Some private hospitals exploit the situation viewing the spike in demand as an opportunity to charge unreasonably high amounts for the oxygen support and other life-saving medical procedures.
The orgies at the hospitals go rampant in absence of government’s guidelines and monitoring to determine what should be charged for the emergency medical services.
The fragility of the health sector has been compounded adding much woes to people’s strenuous fight to survive. The recent incidents of massive corruption in terms of not supplying genuine medical equipment, COVID-19 test forgery, non-compliance of necessary rules for plasma therapy and exorbitant food bill in a medical college, to name a few, make the people not only alarmed but also grimed about future health sector scenario. And it comes at a time when people are laying their lives on the line for a way-out from the pandemic.
The country’s health sector has undergone a major reshuffle over allegations of corruption, eclipsing this life and death concerning sector. A good number of officials were transferred from the health ministry and other departments under it to other government establishments.
The replacement of the health secretary a few weeks ago is a pointer to prevalence of corrupt practices and presence of “unholy syndicate” in the health sector. Even the state’s anti-graft body- the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has also spread its wings to the health sector for probing the alleged malpractices there.
Moreover, the outpouring of funds and supplies from the government has created new opportunities for corruption as a number of media reports indicated that funds were not properly utilised to handle the corona crisis and beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hugely exposed gaps in health services, demanding the need for urgent attention and addressing healthcare deficiencies and healthcare requirements of the population.
The current pandemic has brought to the light the need of carefully analysing the present state of the country’s healthcare infrastructure and making meaningful investments to improve access to quality health care.
The private healthcare services are regulated under the ‘Medical Practice of Private Clinics and Laboratories (Regulation) Ordinance 1982 which requires to be updated to regulate such a large number of private health facilities.
Can the recent High Court observation that if the private hospitals or clinics impose abnormal fees for the treatment or incentive care unit (ICU) then a patient could complain to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) be a saviour. It also directed two govt bodies to conduct an enquiry into the allegations of refusal to give treatment by the hospitals and clinics.
The chorology of past few years reminds us all that human beings are likely to always face viruses which are yet to be found out.
Health experts opt for a solid medical system to cope with any threat-a medical system that provides health promotion, both preventive and curative.
Everyone expects that no one dies, but reality goes on to say many people are too far away from a health facility or they cannot afford expensive private hospitals.
Kamaluddin Shabuj is a Senior Journalist