Bangladesh coronavirus patients shun government hospitals

Thousands of beds for coronavirus patients in Bangladesh are lying empty despite the country struggling with a rising caseload as people are too scared to enter hospitals, officials and sufferers say.

Some patients have bluntly told health workers they would “rather die at home than die in a hospital”, an official for a medical charity told AFP news agency.

Bangladesh has registered about 183,795 COVID-19 infections, and some 3,000 new cases are being added each day, while the death toll stood at 2,352 on Monday.

But medical experts say the real figures are likely much higher because so little testing has been carried out.

In the capital Dhaka, about 4,750 of 6,305 beds set aside for coronavirus patients are not being used, the government’s health department acknowledged.

Authorities in the second city of Chittagong, which has emerged as a virus hotspot, say only half of its dedicated hospital beds are currently filled.

The two cities have a combined population of 25 million and account for approximately 80 percent of Bangladesh’s 87,000 active cases.

The health department said the beds were not being used because many infected people were being treated at home.

Hospital phobia

“Most of the patients have mild symptoms. Adequate telemedicine services are available. That may be the reason for empty beds in hospitals,” health department deputy head Nasima Sultana told AFP news agency.

The number of beds had been boosted in anticipation of extra cases, she added.

But health experts and those infected with the virus say people are worried about the level of care they would receive in a public hospital.

“They told us they would rather die at home than die in a hospital,” a senior official for the Al Manahil charity in Chittagong, which provides ambulance and burial services, told AFP.

A survey of more than 80,000 people carried out with United Nations backing found 44 percent of Bangladeshis were “too scared” to even call the government’s COVID-19 helpline. Many feared being taken to hospital if they tested positive.

Bangladesh’s public hospitals are not “patient-friendly”, according to Rashid e Mahbub, head of the Bangladesh Health Rights Movement.

“A negative perception has been created, and that is prompting many patients to stay at home. Few people can afford the expensive private hospitals.”

Only people with serious respiratory problems go to public facilities, said the activist.

“A significant number of COVID-19 patients are dying at home.”

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