An increasing number of experienced doctors at the frontline in the fight against Covid-19 are falling victim to the virus, creating vacuum in the healthcare system that is already strained by the pandemic.
At least 16 professor-level doctors died of Covid-19 or with symptoms so far with two such senior physicians adding to the list yesterday.
With the two professors, a total of 35, including five with coronavirus symptoms, died so far, according to Bangladesh Doctors’ Foundation (BDF).
As many as 1,169 doctors got infected and of them 629 recovered as of yesterday, according to the foundation that updates the number of deaths and infected doctors on a regular basis.
Although the rate of doctors getting infected came down slightly, the number of deaths went up lately. Among the dead, most are senior physicians, Nirupam Das, chief administrator of BDF said.
“This is a great loss for the country,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Dr Gazi Zahirul Hasan, a professor of the Pediatric Surgery department at Bangladesh Sheikh Mujib Medical University, died at the intensive care unit (ICU) of Dhaka Medical College Hospital earlier yesterday.
Zahirul Hasan began showing symptoms of Covid-19 more than a week ago and he went into self-isolation at home soon after, his colleague Shoheli Alam said.
His first test result came negative but he went through a second test as his had symptoms and result of the second test showed that he had tested positive for the virus, she said.
Another doctor Prof AKM Fazlul Haq died of Covid-19 at ICU of Kurmitola General Hospital around 7:30pm, Nirupam Das said.
He was shifted to ICU of the hospital on Thursday as the saturation of the Ophthalmologist fell. But yesterday afternoon, his hypoxia surmounted and he went through massive cardiac arrest and thus he could not be revived, Nirupam added.
He had a successful career in public service under the health ministry and later ended his career as a teacher of Shikder Medical College.
The doctor, also a freedom fighter, was captured and endured torture by the Pakistani army during the Liberation War in 1971.
An assistant professor was also succumbed to the highly contagious virus yesterday.
Dr Mahmud Manowar, an assistant professor of National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD), died of Covid-19 at its ICU at 9:30am. He was 43, Nirupam Das said.
Dr Moyeen Uddin, an assistant professor of Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital, was the very first doctor to sacrifice his life. He died on April 15, around a month after the virus hit Bangladesh.
Prof Col (retd) Md Moniruzzaman, a Hematologist involved with three major private hospitals in the country, was the second. He died on May 3.
Prof Maj (retd) Abul Mokarim Md Mohsin Uddin, chief consultant (radiology) at Ibn Sina Diagnostic and Imaging Centre, was the third. The medical professional, also a freedom fighter, died on May 12.
After that 32 doctors, including 14 more professor-lever doctors died of Covid-19 or with symptoms in last one month.
It takes more than 20 years for a doctor at medical college to be a professor after completing his or her post doctorate degree. It takes at least 15 years to be professor in country’s lone medical university — Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, doctors said.
“This is an irreparable loss for the country,” Prof Ridwanur Rahman, an infectious diseases specialist, said.
At least three senior doctors died who were involved in providing ICU facilities to patients while rest of the doctors were dying while giving treatment to patients at Covid-19 units or other patients, he said.
“We have scarcity of doctors and mostly the scarcity of senior and skilled doctors. They are dying. This is very unfortunate… They are getting infected due to widespread infection of Covid-19,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
He said when a young doctor got infected with Covid-19, he or she may be recovered but it becomes tough for senior doctors to do so.
A BSMMU doctor said the role of a senior doctor does not end with giving treatment to serious patients, they also give advice to their juniors and guide them to grow as skilled physicians.
Besides, they play important roles in different policy making positions related to the health sector, the doctor said.
WHY IS THE NUMBER OF INFECTED DOCTORS INCREASING?
The number of infection among doctors was high at the first stage mainly due to lack of “poor quality” personal protective equipment (PPE), and patients’ concealment of Covid-19 symptoms.
When the total number of Covid-19 patients was 7,667 on April 30, the number of infected doctors was 500. A total to 81,523 people got infected with Covid-19 as of yesterday while the number of infected doctors is 1,169.
Although the rate of infected doctors comes down, but a significant number of doctors are being infected, Nirupam Das said.
Doctors, who are involved in “aerosol generating process” that include intubation and nebulisation to patients are more prone to infection.
Another doctor said many doctors were getting infected as they fail to put on and discard PPEs properly.
Besides, doctors often get exposed to different types of virus and that in many cases, reduce their immunity power, so they, especially senior doctors, are more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection, she said wishing not to be named.
Prof Ridwanur Rahman said doctors working at the hospitals are exposed to “high doze” infection compared to the community level. And, as a result, they often have to take treatment at hospitals being infected severely.
Nirupam Das also echoed him. “Our observation is the number of doctors has to take treatment at hospital, especially taking ICU facility, is relatively more than general patients due to high doze infection,” he added.