No physician wants a situation that requires them to triage treatments based on availability of resources. But now this is an emergency, no longer national, it is global. With no known cure, hospitals across the globe are struggling to provide supportive treatment to serious Covid-19 patients. At the same time, doctors, nurses and other health care providers need to protect themselves from the highly contagious novel coronavirus.
So shortage of medical devices is no more a secret to hide, since it is true for Bangladesh, as it is for the USA or Italy. Demands for ventilators and protective equipment like face masks and gowns have gone high worldwide, with supplies running dangerously low amid the pandemic.
US President Trump had to invoke a Korean War-era law to force companies to make ventilators and protective face masks to meet the surging demand. The country has also stopped export of N95 masks to ensure its availability to the US doctors and nurses first.
The difference is, the US hospitals are not concealing their shortcomings. They are speaking to their national media to highlight their struggle against Covid-19 and how they are coping with the awfully short supplies of medical equipment.
The Brookdale Hospital in New York granted CNN rare access to show its viewers how health care providers of the hospital are fighting against the deadly virus. The CNN television report shows a doctor speaking from inside a hospital with patients lying in beds in rows, health care workers in protective equipment busy in caring for the patients in the ICU.
The hospital had to come up with makeshift arrangements to treat Covid-19 patients. Plastic sheets, hung from the walls with duct tape, separate an area of the hospital to treat coronavirus patients. The hospital has more than 100 Covid-19 patients admitted and there are 78 others waiting for test results, and its morgue is overflowing and a refrigerator truck is kept ready for storing more bodies.
"We need gowns, we need gloves, we need masks. We need more vents (ventilators)," a doctor was saying in a live telecast.
Hospital staffers said they want people to understand how dire the situation was for healthcare providers and how their hospital was struggling to keep up with the demand for resources.
The hospital's chief medical resident was frankly telling how the hospital was facing a critical shortage of ventilators and working on repurposing outdated ones, even trying to use anesthesia machines as ventilators.
Instead of avoiding duties, the hospital staff is facing the pressure of the deadly pandemic with whatever resources they have, and letting people know about their struggle, services and needs.
A similar live coverage of a hospital dealing with coronavirus patients is not easy here. Talking to the media is considered a 'crime' here. We are reporting on the courage and dedication of doctors, nurses and other staff of the Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Hospital based on sources unwilling to reveal their identities, in other words, anonymous sources, a practice frowned upon in quality journalism. None is willing to be identified while talking to the media about their services and problems. Even authoritative sources request not to be named while talking with the media.
Complaints about low quality food or inadequate living arrangements were enough to invite harassment for doctors and nurses, meting out temporary suspension, as happened in case of some doctors of the Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Hospital, the first government health facility to start coronavirus treatment.
Nurses were officially asked by the nursing directorate not to talk to the mass media. The directive followed protests and complaints in the media about the quality of food served in a hotel arranged as their residence after hospital duty.
A medical officer of Noakhali 250-bed General Hospital was served with show-cause notice by the hospital's superintendent just for posting on Facebook about the short supplies of N95/KN95/FFP2 face masks and PPE.
But a similar complaint was handled by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the proper way, when the resident medical officer of 300-bed Narayanganj hospital reached her in a video-conference and informed her that his hospital, converted into a Covid-19 hospital, did not get even a single N95 mask. The prime minister instantly asked the health secretary and health directorate officials about the supply situation of the N95 masks. She was told that there was no supply of the US-made N95 and they were looking for alternatives.
Health authorities keep informing the citizens that they have enhanced their testing capacity and kept hospitals ready with adequate supplies of protective equipment. But the reality is far from that.
A Covid-19 patient, who lived to tell the tale at the Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Hospital, informed The Business Standard that it was only her tremendous mental strength that helped her recover. Narrating her nine-day experience in the hospital, she said patients themselves had to collect food boxes left outside the door of the ward. Nurses came to them only to administer injections. She saw doctors only two or three times in those nine days.
It was a rare chance for a district level medical officer to draw the prime minister's attention to a serious problem in the fight against coronavirus. But for the rest of the people, the media is the last resort to get the real picture of the services needed by people and the quality delivered by authorities. The media can help hospitals talk about their services to the people and the problems they are facing, helping authorities to work promptly.
Authorities here might not want the media to report on their shortcomings. They would rather hide their weaknesses from the public eye. But the New York hospital took the media in confidence, as their partners, to show the real picture to the people and the authorities.
Keeping the media in the dark is never a good policy. Absence of reliable information will just give rise to rumours which lead to chaos.
As Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen says overcoming a pandemic may look like fighting a war, but it is far more than that. In times of social calamity, the authorities need to hear more from the people about the real problems, where exactly they are hit and how the victims are affected.
"Rather than muzzling the media and threatening dissenters with punitive measures, governance can be greatly helped by informed public discussion," he writes in an Indian Express newspaper article.