Healthcare facilities by definition are supposed to treat each and every patient seeking their services.
But in the ongoing battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been painfully noticed that hospitals and clinics in the country, especially the private ones, are not complying with the very commitment for which they had been authorised to operate by the government.
If you are running high temperature, having breathing difficulties, chest pain, need a surgery or dialysis, you are invariably running the risk of not being treated in any private hospital or clinic, a common complaint from many patients and their family members.
With those symptoms you are considered a Covid-19 suspect and you need to do the necessary PCR test to come out clean before getting any treatment.
Otherwise, you are left with the tortuous and often uncertain prospect of seeking medical support from the already-overcrowded public hospitals, which can treat only 30 percent of the country's people seeking healthcare services.
In the last week, this newspaper ran some stories and a few powerful pictures that gave an indication of patients and their family members' untold sufferings while they were running around the city from one hospital to the other like virtual beggars desperate for treatment.
Also, a number of people died without treatment. Two cases perhaps deserve detailed deliberation just to grasp how painful their situations were.
Anwar Hossain's death in particular was cruel. The man in his 60s was taken to the capital's Mugda General Hospital on Saturday morning with breathing difficulties and fever. He died on a gurney and his wife, while lamenting outside the hospital around 1:30pm, told The Daily Star photojournalist Anisur Rahman that the hospital authorities did not treat her husband.
"The security guards at the main gate first did not allow us to enter. But after a lot of requests they allowed us in and we took my husband inside on a gurney [kept for carrying food for patients]. We waited in front of emergency for a long time with my husband struggling in pain. But no doctor or nurse turned up to treat my husband.
"As we were looking for help, some hospital staffers came and told us to take the body outside. As I looked at my husband, I saw he was not breathing anymore," the woman recalled while crying profusely, creating a heavy atmosphere outside the hospital.
The woman, who was also accompanied by her son and brother-in-law, said they live in Muradpur on the outskirts of the city.
Shamim Newaz Khan, who had been suffering from a degenerative disease which causes the lungs to fill up with fibrous buildup, was another victim of denial.
Talking to The Daily Star reporter Zyma Islam on Saturday, his son Sanid Newaz Khan said his father died before they could put him on a bed at the DMCH around 9:00pm on May 11, after a futile 10-hour effort to provide him with life-saving CCU support.
While detailing the "darkest moments" of his life, Sanid said at least three private hospital in the city refused to treat his father after they were told that he was running high temperature. He said a couple of hours after IEDCR collected the samples around 11:00am on the day, his condition deteriorated. The fourth private hospital they tried agreed to admit the patient but upon arrival said that they will keep him in observation for two hours.
Around 4:00pm they gave a report saying that the patient had a heart attack but that they will not admit him because he has fever and breathing difficulties.
"They told me that they cannot give CCU support because this is a coronavirus-free hospital," said the son.
His request for providing his father with emergency care while looking for an alternative hospital with CCU support was also turned down by the hospital authorities, who referred the patient to the DMCH with the note on the prescription saying "he is a suspected coronavirus patient".
The note made things even more complicated, starting from getting an ambulance to carry his father to a hospital where he could get immediate CCU support.
"Around 9:00pm, I went to Dhaka Medical, but by that time his situation had worsened. He died before we could put him in a bed," said Sanid with a broken voice.
"The next day, I got a text message from IEDCR saying that my dad was coronavirus-negative," said Sanid, breaking down. "Now I feel like taking the report to that hospital and asking why they denied my father treatment.
"We never thought we would lose him like this. I am just not able to forgive the world!" said Sanid.
There are many others with similar horror experiences.
A heath ministry circular last Monday clearly said that all private hospitals and clinics should have separate arrangements for treating suspected Covid-19 patients, and they cannot refuse any patient if they have the particular treatment facilities.
It also said: "No patient can be refused treatment if there are treatment facilities. If the hospitals are to refer the patients to other hospitals, that has to be done only after ensuring arrangement of treatment in consultation with the Covid-19 hospital control room of the health directorate."
The circular also said the kidney patients suffering for long and undergoing treatment, including dialysis, should be provided with necessary treatment if they are not Covid-19 positive.
Failure to comply with the government order will result in legal action, including revoking of licence, against the hospitals or clinics concerned if allegations are proved, the ministry circular said.
But still the appalling tales abound of ministry guidelines not being honoured.
These have been desperate times for our healthcare system ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country in early March. The government is struggling to do the necessary Covid-19 testing due to limitations of facilities, is trying hard to overcome the shortage of PPE and has taken the praiseworthy decision to appoint additional doctors and nurses to battle the invisible enemy.
But the fight will not muster the necessary momentum unless private hospitals and clinics that treat an overwhelming 70 percent of patients of the country join the cause to overcome a novel menace, the cure for which is yet to be discovered.
It is time to think of humanity above all else.
While it is expected that the private healthcare facilities live up to that moto at a time when Covid-19 infections and deaths in the country are growing with every passing day, non-compliance deserves the toughest of actions from the government.
The onus is on the government to strictly monitor that the guidelines are fully enforced and a violation is dealt with swiftly and harshly.
After all, it is the commitment of the state to guarantee its citizens access to healthcare facilities and see to it that no one is denied of his or her fundamental rights.