An allegation has been raised against some healthcare providers at Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases (BITID) -- the only organisation in Chattogram authorised to test for coronavirus -- over demanding money for conducting the test.
On Wednesday, Zeenat [not the real name], a diabetic patient, found her blood sugar levels fluctuating and felt breathing difficulties. When her family took her to a private hospital in the port city, hospital authorities did not want to admit her until they were confirmed that the patient was not infected with the Covid-19 virus.
The hospital authorities advised the patient to contact BITID for a Covid-19 test, and accordingly, the family contacted hotline of the hospital. The receiver said they could come to collect samples but the patient's family would have to pay Tk 1,000 "for their expenses".
"We were worried at that moment, and had no alternative but to agree to their proposition," her son told The Daily Star. "A team came in an ambulance after around an hour, and collected samples from my mother."
"I requested him to take Tk 500, but they declined," he said, adding, "I had to pay Tk 1,000 to them."
"As far as I know, the government has kept the whole process free of cost, but the staffers are extorting patients," he said.
Although the sample was collected on Thursday, the family did not hear back about the result till Friday afternoon. When worried family members contacted the hospital, staffers replied that it would take time. "Why are you so restless?" they allegedly asked the family members.
"I told them that my mother is sick and cannot be admitted to a hospital unless she gets the report, but they did not seem to care," he said.
The family got the report on Saturday, after interference of a doctor at the hospital.
Asked, Dr Mamunur Rashid, an associate professor of Clinical and Tropical Medicine at BITID, said he also heard a few such allegations. "I have asked them to lodge complaints with specific time and date, so that we can identify them," he told The Daily Star.
Dr Mamun said the test for Covid-19 is totally free of cost at BITID.
"The test is done in a government laboratory; the technicians, doctors, health staff, ambulance and its driver all work for the government... So there is no scope for any staff to ask for money from a patient."
When asked why he did not lodge any complaint, Zeenat's son said they were wary of consequences.
"We are already in trouble with my mother's treatment, and now we don't want to go to any further trouble," he said.
Contacted, SM Nazer Hossain, vice president of Consumers' Associate of Bangladesh (CAB), said it is the responsibility of the authorities to find the corrupt staffers.
"Asking patients to lodge a formal complaint is a sort of attitude by authorities to avoid a serious allegation against their staff," he said. "Many patients do not know how to lodge a complaint, and many others do not want to go for it fearing further trouble."
Contacted, BITID Director Prof Dr MA Hasan said he did not receive any such complaint. "This cannot happen…there is no scope," he said, adding that he would verify the allegation.
Asked about patients not getting test report in time, Dr Mamun said the samples collected throughout a day are tested the following day, and so it takes time to get the results.