Expecting mothers needing specialised care in remote villages under Dharmapasha upazila of Sunamganj still have to endure hours-long potentially risky journeys to the nearest public health facility, despite two new mother and children welfare centres in the area.
In the last one month, at least three women from Datiapara village in Dakshin Bongshikunda union experiencing complications during labour were taken to Mymensingh Medical College Hospital.
They first travelled for hours on boat to reach Kalmakanda Upazila Health Complex in Netrokona; they were then referred to Mymensingh Hospital and it took another three hours.
After hours of journey just to get proper maternity care, they luckily gave birth to healthy babies. But this risk to both mother and child could have been avoided altogether.
Datiapara itself has a 10-bed Mother and Children Welfare Centre, but it is not functional and has no doctors.
For thousands of people of four unions under the greater Madhyanagar of Dharmapasha, access to maternal and child healthcare services has long suffered.
In the area, a motorbike, the only means of communication on the dilapidated roads, and a boat, which takes a slow circuitous route, are the only options available to reach hospitals in Dharmapasha or in nearby Kalmakanda upazila.
As a result, remote villages mostly rely on local medical assistants and quacks.
On Tuesday, a newborn baby in Datiapara died two days after being born at home. A quack had assured that the baby was healthy, family members said.
To change this, two 10-bed mother and children welfare centres -- one in Madhyanagar union and the other in Dakshin Bongshikunda union -- were established by the Directorate General of Family Planning (DGFP) more than two years ago.
But they still stand empty -- without doctors or other staff.
Saidur Rahman, former chairman of Dakshin Bongshikunda union, said, "We waited a long time to have such a facility in the locality so that people don't need to go to Netrokona or Mymensingh.
"This centre gave us hope, but now it's sitting idle for years and people are suffering."
But this is not just the picture of two centres in a remote upazila of Sunamganj.
Since 2013, 159 such centres all over the country are being set up under DGFP to provide maternal and child healthcare services across the country.
The construction of around 140 centres has been completed but these are not yet functional due to the lack of human resources, said maternal and child healthcare officials.
Each specialised centre is set to have two medical officers, four family welfare visitors, four nurses including two midwife nurses, one laboratory technician, one pharmacist, one office assistant, one MLSS (peon) and a guard.
Dr Mohammed Sharif, director (MCH-services) of DGFP, said, "We've already urged the PSC to recruit doctors for these centres and the administrative section of our directorate is about to start the recruiting process for all other staff.
"As many centres were constructed years before, we decided to keep them open for some healthcare and maintenance and 89 such centres have some staff appointed for the work."
The director said they are hopeful about starting healthcare at the centres soon, once the recruitment is completed.
Md Shah Alam, additional secretary (admin wing) of Medical Education and Family Welfare Division of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said, "We urged PSC several years ago to recruit doctors for these centres but they are still not responding and we are waiting . Once the doctors are recruited, the DGFP will recruit other staff and these centres will be functional."