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Deaths with Covid-like symptoms ignored despite alarming rise

  • Published at 10:14 am July 15th, 2021
Covid-19 dead body graveyard Dhaka 20 April 2021
Family members carry the body of a Covid-19 victim for burial at a graveyard in Dhaka on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Experts say it’s important to keep the record to understand nature of pandemic in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is experiencing the worst bout of the pandemic now, logging more than 200 deaths almost every day over the past ten days.

However, the daily count leaves out people who die from coronavirus symptoms, which has jumped alarmingly in recent weeks.

Public health experts say keeping track of deaths from symptoms is important to get the real picture and that it’s an important record to prepare for the next pandemic.

Testing of ‘Covid symptom’ patients  

If people die as symptomatic Covid patients, that can have two meanings — either they were not tested at all or the tests came back negative. 

The health authorities, however, claim that all hospitalized patients are tested.

Samples from Covid victims can be collected for testing even after the death of a patient for up to three hours. Several countries, including neighbouring India, follow it in a bid to get an exact picture of the pandemic. 

“We are required to take samples for testing in case of deaths from symptoms. But at this moment it’s not possible as the number of patients has gone up dramatically,” said Satkhira Civil Surgeon Muhammad Hussain Shafayet.

Also Read - Bangladesh plans to lower age cut-off for Covid vaccines to 18 years

The health authorities in Khulna, however, say they strictly follow it.

“Samples from deceased patients are tested and if they come back positive, then they are included in the count for the next day”, said Civil Surgeon Niaz Mohammad.

He dismissed the possibility of a confirmed death being reported twice.

“Death from Covid symptoms are not recorded officially; this is something the media has coined. Deaths are reported on the basis of test results,” added the senior health official. 

The authorities in Rajshahi, however, are “not sure” whether samples are collected from bodies for testing.

“There is a guideline on collecting samples of those who die with Covid symptoms, but I’m not sure whether it is being followed,” said Civil Surgeon Dr Md Kaiyum Talukder. 

The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) says it has no plans to keep records of deaths from symptoms.

“We still do not have any plan to add deaths from symptoms in the national database. But we will think about it,” said its MIS Director Mizanur Rahman.

He, however, said he was “not sure” whether sample testing after death was part of standard procedure. 

Why is the count of deaths from symptoms important? 

Keeping track of deaths from symptoms is imperative to get a picture of the actual situation and to prepare for the next pandemic, according to experts.

“It is important for public health-related studies so that we can have a real picture of how the pandemic hit a nation. That will help us to prepare for the future,” says Rashid-E-Mahbub, chairman of the National Committee on Health Rights Movement.

Also Read - 'Easing lockdown will trigger Covid-19 surge'

Be-Nazir Ahmed, a former chief of the DGHS’ disease control wing, agreed.

According to him, data on pandemic situations should be recorded in three categories— suspected, probable and confirmed.

“We had advised the DGHS to do so. The figures we get every day are not the actual number, not even the infection rate, because a huge number of people remain outside the coverage of sample-testing.”

Ahmed said if the government had adopted rapid antigen testing, it would have been a lot easier and faster in curbing the infection rate.

Worldwide people are dying of symptoms without being tested and it is a common phenomenon, according to him.

“Countries like Australia and South Korea as well as European nations are strictly maintaining a record for contact tracing. It would not have been very difficult to do that in Bangladesh, but would prove to be an important record in preparing for the next pandemic,” he added. 

Nationwide scene 

In the 24 hours to Thursday, the Covid unit at the Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH) counted 19 deaths.

Of them, only seven tested positive while 12 died with symptoms and another five died after recovering from Covid-19.

Also Read - Covid-19 death toll in Bangladesh crosses 17,000 mark

When asked about the higher number of deaths with symptoms, RMCH Director Brig Gen Shamim Yazdani said that most patients were hospitalized 10 to 12 days after getting infected.

“By then, the virus is not that active and the tests come back negative. So, they are counted as patients who died with symptoms,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

 Almost all the virus hotspots are now recording a higher number of deaths from Covid-like symptoms than fatalities from confirmed cases. 

 In southwestern Satkhira, 446 people have died with Covid symptoms while deaths from confirmed cases have stood at 80 since the pandemic began.

Sher-E-Bangla Medical College Hospital in Barisal reported 236 fatalities from Covid, with the number of deaths from symptoms being 644.

Overall Bangladesh has reported a little over 1.07 million cases, including 17,278 deaths, since the pandemic broke out in March last year.

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