Covid-19 Treatment Cost: Families go broke at pvt hospitals
When Covid patient Rokeya Sultana was fighting for her life in the ICU of a private hospital last week, her son Mamunur Rashid was found frantically talking over the phone with someone trying to convince that person to buy a piece of land from him.
Approached by The Daily Star, he said his mother, 50, had been in the ICU for four days and doctors could not tell him how long she would have to stay there. The family had brought Tk 1.2 lakh for her treatment and all the money was already gone.
"Half the amount was borrowed from our relatives. Now we're selling two decimals of our courtyard for Tk 1.5 lakh, which is much lower than the market price. We need more money. We are even ready to sell our home," Mamunur said, adding that treatment at the private hospital was extremely expensive.
Mamunur and all his brothers are day labourers. Their elderly father is bed-ridden. Selling the little they have seemed the only way for them to get some cash.
Rokeya, however, died on August 20.
By that time, the family had spent over Tk 4 lakh for her treatment, which included a hefty bill of Tk 3.20 lakh for her six-day stay in the private hospital.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Mamunur said after her mother was diagnosed with Covid-19, they took her to a local upazila health complex in Cumilla. She then started complaining of breathing difficulties and was rushed to Cumilla Medical College Hospital.
But finding no bed over there, her family admitted her to a private hospital in Cumilla. She was brought to Dhaka when her condition deteriorated further.
"We took her to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, Mugda Medical College Hospital and DNCC hospital, but could not find a vacant bed at those hospitals," Mamunur said, adding that they had to pay around Tk 30,000 in ambulance fare for carrying her from Cumilla and looking for beds in different hospitals.
"We eventually got a bed at the DNCC hospital, but we were already financially devastated."
Like Rokeya's, many poor and middle class families of Covid-19 patients are going broke and bankrupt as such patients are forced to take treatment at private hospitals due to the unavailability of beds in the subsidised government hospitals.
These correspondents visited five prominent private hospitals in Dhaka and talked to over a dozen family members of Covid patients. Most of them said they sold their last belongings and fell into a debt trap to fund the treatment.
The family of Monowara Begum, a woman in her 60s, is another family with a similar tale.
Monowara was admitted to the ICU of a private hospital in Mirpur on July 28. She was put on life support a few days later.
She died on August 20.
Her family had to spend around Tk 50,000 every day when she was on life support. They spent the last of their savings to continue the treatment. There is hardly anyone of their relatives from whom they did not take loans.
Her husband, Jahangir Alam, said, "We completely depended on our only son's income. He is a graphics designer and earns around Tk 25,000 per month. We had to sell all our ancestral land in our village for the treatment."
An acute shortage of space is also widespread in the private hospitals, which has exacerbated the situation for patients with financial limitations.
Sania Akhter, 23, mother of a five year old son, desperately needed a Covid bed with uninterrupted oxygen supply at the rate of eight litres per minute. However, the woman from Savar could not get any bed in public hospitals.
"When she was turned away by all the hospitals, I thought my sister would die in the ambulance. At that time, the ambulance driver took us to an under-construction hospital in Shyamoli, which had just installed some ICU beds but did not open its general wards yet," said her brother, a day labourer.
"Since then, I had to pay for all the ICU services. Seeing my helpless situation, the hospital authorities were kind enough to give us a discount of Tk 50,000," said her brother Mohammad Ibrahim.
Nevertheless, he had to pay Tk 2 lakh for her treatment.
"I am happy that we got our sister back. But I am now totally entangled in debt as I had to borrow money with high interest rates. I do not know how I'll repay these loans," he said.
A Covid-19 patient receiving treatment at a private hospital has to pay at least double than that in the government hospitals despite the fact that the duration of the stay is much shorter in private hospitals, says a recent study of the health economics unit (HEU) of the health ministry.
The average daily cost is Tk 37,128 for a general bed and Tk 68,885 for an ICU bed in private hospitals, the report said.
Md Mainul Ahasan, secretary general, Bangladesh Private Clinics and Diagnostic Owners' Association, said, "Covid treatment is expensive. We can't give patients much discounts as Covid units have high operating costs."
Moreover, the number of non-Covid patient has reduced drastically. Because of the pandemic, people don't come to hospitals and diagnostic centres unless it is an emergency," he said.
"If we give too many discounts to Covid patients, we won't be able to run our facilities."
Md Nurul Amin, deputy director (deputy secretary) of HEU who led the study, said, "The cost of treating coronavirus patients is comparatively high all over the world due to the high cost of medicines, elevated expenditure relating to manpower and facility maintenance. But that does not mean that these hospitals will be off limits to patients with financial challenges."
He said that the government can financially assist these people or pay for their treatment if they have to be hospitalised in private clinics.