The Health Minister has urged private medical college hospitals to make preparations to provide a hand to the government designated Covid-19 hospitals as the country braces itself for a second wave of the pandemic. He has asked them to increase their capacity by 20 percent and double their Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity. While this may be considered prudent advice at a time when infection rates have risen to around 32 percent as winter sets in, we cannot help but ask: have the public hospitals increased their capacity of ICU facilities? After all, the majority of patients will not be able to afford the private hospital ICU beds that may cost Tk 15,000 to 100,000 per day. Thus, the most wanted option would be ICU beds in the government hospitals.
If we just recall the reports throughout this year on the availability of ICU beds in the country, the scenario is quite bleak.
In early June, this paper reported that only 13 ICU beds had been allocated in Rangpur Division to treat critical Covid-19 patients—three in Dinajpur and 10 in Rangpur, with two additional beds for doctors affected by Covid-19 and 20 for other patients. As for the other six districts of the division—there are no ICU facilities at all, forget dedicated ones for Covid-19 patients. Meanwhile, another report found only 12 ICU beds for Noakhali, Feni, Rangamati, Khagrachhari, Bandarban, Cox's Bazar and Chattogram. In September, our paper quoted the director of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) saying that there were only seven government general hospitals that have ICU facilities, three of them in Dhaka and four in Chattogram, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Mymensingh.
While public hospitals in many districts don't have any ICUs at all and others have a scanty number, there are government hospitals where ICU beds remain unoccupied because they don't have the trained personnel to operate them. Kuwait-Bangladesh Maitree Government Hospital in Dhaka, which is devoted to Covid-19 patients, have been reported to be able to operate only 16 of its 26 beds because they do not have enough medical specialists.
So has anything changed since the last few months? The health minister has said that the government is increasing the ICU capacity in government hospitals, but is it increasing at a pace that will actually make a difference during the second wave? We have spent almost a year with Covid-19 and seen patients suffering and dying because they could not get ICU beds on time or at all. Relying on private hospitals to fill the gap in public hospitals does not make us hopeful. It is the government's job to ramp up the ICU capacity of its hospitals all over the country, along with providing trained staff to operate the facilities and strict monitoring, so that all critical patients regardless of their social status have access to such facilities.