Physician and entrepreneur Farzana Rahman says she will persevere with her efforts until the last Covid-19 patient has recovered
Around six months ago, public hospitals across the country were facing an uphill struggle to function, but Farzana Rahman, a physician and entrepreneur, knew exactly how she could continue to provide healthcare at Singra upazila of Natore – about 200 kilometres from the capital.
To her, the safety of her hospital staff was important and so was the continuation of healthcare services to more than 31,000 people in the upazila.
At a time when a dearth of personal protective equipment, coordination and hospital management were making headlines, Farzana purchased safety gear at high prices, instructed healthcare staff on how to use it and counselled patients to help them understand the importance of maintaining hygiene and social distancing.
All these efforts have paid off.
None of the 36 staffers of the hospital, which she founded five years ago, has yet contracted the novel coronavirus, though the facility has never shut its doors to any patient.
As the government has eased restrictions on people's movement, she has doubled the protective measures because she knows the virus has not been tamed yet.
However, people are reluctant to obey the safety rules, making it harder for Farzana to keep going.
In a recent interview with The Business Standard, Farzana pledged that she would not pull back from what she has been doing "until the recovery of the last Covid-19 patient".
Initially, patients with cough and fever were refused treatment at public and private healthcare facilities whereas more and more patients wanted to see a doctor when they got these symptoms, fearing a Covid-19 infection.
Many of these people would otherwise go to quacks for such illnesses, Farzana said. When healthcare became inaccessible, patients hid information, for example, about their return from virus hotspots like Dhaka and Narayanganj.
In Singra upazila, 70 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed so far, while the figure stands at about 400 in the district. Farzana suspects that there are more asymptomatic cases now.
"Not all patients with fever and cough are Covid-19 patients though. I remember a girl aged 24 or 25 who came with these symptoms and we discovered that she had typhoid," she said.
The hospital, named Dip Medical Services, has been serving the community round-the-clock as it did before the pandemic.
Farzana split the staff into four groups, two of which work on day and night shifts for two consecutive weeks and then go into quarantine for two weeks when the other two groups work at the hospital. That means 18 staffers constantly stay in quarantine.
Such a move has placed an additional workload on doctors, nurses and support staff. However, Farzana said, they, including herself, have taken this pandemic as "an opportunity to serve humanity."
Staffers spend the quarantine days at the hospital – which takes care of their living expenses and food.
Every morning, Farzana religiously convenes a meeting only to remind healthcare personnel that a simple instance of negligence might lead to an irreversible loss.
"Our families matter as much as our patients. So, when we continue our professional work, we have to make sacrifices on the familial end to keep our loved ones away from any possible infection from us," she said.
A gynaecologist, Farzana observed that the pandemic and the two-month-long lockdown discouraged pregnant women from giving birth at the hospital. As a result, many suffered complications during childbirth at home.
Some positive changes also happened.
"The number of patients with diarrhoea and respiratory issues this year has been far lower than in previous years. This is because people took the matter of hygiene seriously and wore masks that also protected them from dust and pollution," Dr Farzana said.
As things are now gradually returning to normal, people have returned to their old social behaviours.
Farzana said her determination to serve the public will not wane.