Country-wise comparison shows we lack far behind the other countries who are most at risk
If you compare one specific figure of Bangladesh with other countries', the stark shortage becomes obvious. And then if you read what our officials have been saying the past few days, it gives you the shivers. One wonders if our health officials can grasp the gravity of the situation.
We are talking about ventilators, the machine which helps patients with breathing.
Covid-19 attacks the lungs; ventilators help patients breathe when they are no longer able to breathe on their own.
The coronavirus control room at the health directorate shows there are merely 45 ventilators for the virus patients.
The health minister, Zahid Maleque, however gives a different and vague figure. He said there are 500 ventilators in government hospitals and 700 in private hospitals. Moreover, 300 more are in the 'pipeline'.
We do not know what this 'pipeline' means, there is no specifics in the statement; we do not know if the orders have been placed, if so with what countries, and when we can expect them to arrive.
We may ignore the health directorate's figure and take the minister's claim, however vague, because he did not say how many of these ventilators were dedicated to coronavirus patients, as correct. And the minister has assured us that 'we have an adequate number of ventilators'.
So, how comfortable should we feel with 500 ventilators?
These 500 ventilators means one ventilator for every 3.4 lakh people.
A look at what other countries are doing to procure as many ventilators as possible in the shortest possible time can clear the picture of how we are faring in our fight against coronavirus.
Let's start with India.
It has between 30,000 and 40,000 ventilators, or one ventilator for every 30,000 people. It says it needs 1 million such equipment and has asked its automakers including Maruti, Tata and Hyundai to produce ventilators urgently.
Pakistan with a population of 19 crore has 2,200 ventilators. This comes to one ventilator for every 86,000 citizens. It is procuring 10,000 more to face the crisis.
The USA has about 160,000 ventilators available for patient care. That is about one ventilator for every 20,000 persons. On March 15, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN that there are only 12,700 ventilators in the national strategic stockpile.
US President Donald Trump has ordered for 100,000 more ventilators in 100 days.
The US is now scrambling for ventilators and has asked General Motors to go into production.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that the need for ventilators now is like the need for missiles during World War II.
The UK has over 8,000 ventilators available to NHS patients. This means one ventilator for every 8,700 patients. It expects to add another 8,000 from existing UK and international manufacturers in the next few weeks. Dyson, famous for making vacuum cleaners, has been ordered to make another 15,000 ventilators.
Italy, facing the worst crisis today, is now prioritising its 3,000 ventilators with the patients who have the highest chance of survival. It has asked Siare Engineering to start producing 5,000 ventilators a month. Italy has one ventilator for every 20,000 people.
German hospitals already are among the best equipped in Europe when it comes to both intensive care beds and the availability of ventilators. It has around 25,000 ventilators, meaning one ventilator for every 3,200 citizens. It has ordered an additional 10,000 units.
Our health minister on Sunday, however, claimed that many big countries do not have as many ventilators as we do.
Maybe he knows something we don't. In that case, he should let the citizens know about it to dispel our ignorance.