Bangladesh

Preparing for 2nd Wave: O2 supply still not optimised

Although hospitals across the country struggled during the first wave of Covid-19 transmission due to a lack of central oxygen supply, the authorities said they were still relying on cylinder-based oxygen supply.

As the rate of Covid-19 transmission is rising by the day again, giving credence to fears of a second wave, experts said the efforts to arrange proper hospital treatment for infected people must be completed immediately and there is no scope to repeat mistakes.

In a meeting with journalists yesterday, top officials of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), with Director General Prof ABM Khurshid Alam in the chair, talked about their preparations regarding the second wave.

Asked how many district level hospitals have centralised oxygen supply other than the dedicated Covid-19 hospitals, Dr Farid Hossain Miah, director of hospitals and clinics at the DGHS, said, "We have plans to set up centralised oxygen supply systems. We are working on it."

However, Abu Hena Morshed Zaman, director of central medicine store depot (CMSD), however, said they have sufficient oxygen cylinders in stock even if the number of patients increases.

"If the health directorate cannot set up centralised oxygen system for strategic reasons, then I can say the CMSD is ready to provide support. We have 9,650 cylinders in hand," Zaman, who is also an additional secretary of the government, said.

Experts, however, said, this is futile.

"Cylinders cannot make up for the demand of centralised oxygen systems," Prof Sayedur Rahman, chairman of pharmacology at the BSMMU, told The Daily Star.

Experts have long been stressing the need for uninterrupted oxygen supply at hospitals for critical Covid-19 patients.

Putting emphasis on this, the prime minister on June 2 ordered that intensive care units (ICUs) be set up at all district hospitals.

Subsequently, the health ministry had started taking steps to set up centralised oxygen supply systems at 79 district hospitals.

Nearly five months later when the top DGHS officials were asked about those hospitals, they evaded the question. At present, 24 dedicated Covid-19 hospitals in the country have centralised oxygen supply systems, according to the latest data from the Management Information System of the DGHS.

SCREENING STILL LAX

Despite some progress, the government is struggling to implement the guideline on ensuring that no passenger is allowed come from a foreign destination without a negative Covid-19 certificate, Dr Shahnila Ferdousi, director of the Center for Disease Control at the DGHS, said while talking about the latest state of screening at the country's entry points.

"We have sent a letter to the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh to ensure that airlines do not carry passengers without Covid-19 certificates, but it is not working."

She also said the screening situation has improved, but there is lots still to do.

NO PROGRESS ON RAPID ANTIGEN TESTING

Authorities have also failed to announce any hard deadline for introducing the much-talked-about antigen-based rapid testing.

"We will start training staffers to conduct antigen-based rapid testing from next week and hopefully will be able to introduce rapid testing next month," Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director general of the health directorate, told journalists in the meeting.

Asked about a specific timeline, she said, "We cannot say right now."

The DGHS is planning to introduce rapid testing in 10 district headquarters where there are no RT-PCR test facilities, she added.

She also spoke of different technical issues regarding the introduction of rapid testing.

Asked whether necessary antigen kits have been imported, she said, "We have a few and will bring more soon."

The health services division of the health ministry on September 17 approved the antigen rapid testing kit after months of bureaucratic exercises.

Officials in the press meet said the testing protocol for antigen-based rapid tests was awaiting the health ministry's approval.

DGHS Director General Prof ABM Khurshid Alam said, "Taking today's suggestions from journalists into consideration, we will be able to undertake rest of the tasks ahead. We had or have shortcomings in promotional activities; we are trying to move forward. However, you have to come forward too." 

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