Frontline nurses treating coronavirus patients say they joined the fight even after knowing that they could die
Nurses at the Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital have become both physically and mentally exhausted due to the shortage of food, personal protective equipment and manpower.
The medical personnel of the hospital had to stage a demonstration for three meals a day. Meanwhile, the government on April 12 appointed Dr Sarwar Ul Alam as the director of the hospital.
Normally a 200-bed hospital does not have a director, but Dr Alam, who is a pediatric dentist, was picked after a supernumerary position was created against the backdrop of spiked coronavirus cases.
The Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital is the country's first dedicated medical facility for Covid-19 patients. There are around 130 coronavirus patients being treated there at present.
On condition of anonymity, a nurse of the hospital said, "We were served rotten rice on Saturday night. Our colleagues did not get breakfast the next morning —just tea and some biscuits."
The nurse told The Business Standard that they notified the hospital management several times about the problems. "We were assured each time. However, there was no solution," she added.
Nearly 60 nurses, technologists and pharmacists of the Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital are living in a hotel in Dhaka's Uttara area. The hospital had arranged meals for the medical personnel at Tk190 per person per day there.
But the nurse claimed they did not get food in the morning and after returning from duty in the afternoon.
She said, "We look after Covid-19 patients. We are supposed to be served nutritious food to boost our immunity."
"We joined the fight against the virus knowing that we could die. But the excessive work pressure and supply shortages have consumed us before death," said another nurse on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday, the nurses started a demonstration over the irregularities, and raised their concern to the health directorate and the nursing directorate. The authorities finally resolved the issues by raising the daily budget for food to Tk500 per person per day.
The nurses said food quality improved from Monday.
Allegations over PPE and manpower shortage
The hospital has 88 nurses, out of which 30 work in the intensive care units while a few are on leave now. Less than 58 nurses do the rounds and take patients' temperature, perform (ECG) electrocardiography and nebulise patients.
The nurses said that though their shift is fixed, they very often exceed the duty rotas.
Many nurses say that they are supposed to go for a 14-day quarantine after a straight seven-day duty. But because of the shortage of manpower, they can't avail the self-isolation period, said Bangladesh Nurses Association President Ismat Ara Parvin.
She also added that nurses at the hospital do not have N95 masks.
When contacted, health directorate Director Dr Aminul Hasan said that they are trying to resolve the issues raised by the nurses.
Could a pulmonologist be picked for the director post?
The newly appointed director of the Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital, Dr Sarwar Ul Alam, is a pediatric dentist.
A professor or a senior consultant level physician can be appointed as the director of a hospital. However, medical experts say that the government could have chosen a respiratory specialist to be the director of the hospital instead of selecting a pediatric dentist.
Professor Muzaherul Huq, former adviser of WHO's Southeast Asia region, told The Business Standard that the government could appoint a pulmonologist, respiratory medicine specialist, tropical or infectious disease specialist, anaesthesiologist or even a public health expert to the post.
"We could also send a specialist from the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital on deputation to the post," commented Prof Muzaherul.
Previously, Dr Mohammad Shehab Uddin had been serving the hospital as a supervisor. Now he is the assistant director of the hospital.