• Friday, Jan 28, 2022
  • Last Update : 03:32 am

Community health workers left in the lurch

  • Published at 04:52 pm May 8th, 2020
Community clinic during Covid-19 - Featured_08.05.2020
A community healthcare worker, donning a full set of personal protective equipment (PPE) waits to provide service to the locals at Jangalia Community Clinic in Araihazar upazila, Narayanganj Dhaka Tribune

Many work with only masks and gloves, endangering themselves and their families

Mahmuda Begum starts work as a community healthcare provider (CHCP) around 8am every day. With Covid-19 ripping through the country, she continues to visit villagers, disregarding the risk of contracting coronavirus herself.

Her main focus is on collecting information from families where someone has returned from abroad since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

Working for the Bandar Kalagachhia Community Clinic in Narayanganj, a Covid-19 hotspot, Mahmuda also comes into contact with 40-50 patients a day.

She attends to a number of locals as well, with a slight fever, dry cough, and breathing problems, all Covid-19 symptoms.

Astonishingly, she does it all without a complete set of protective gear or personal protective equipment (PPE).

“At a time when people across the world are avoiding public gatherings, fearing community transmission, we [health workers] are coming into contact with people regularly just wearing masks and gloves,” Mahmuda said.

“We urge people to maintain social distancing, but they hardly pay attention to us,” she commented.

The district civil surgeon's office, Mahmuda claimed, gave her only three sets of masks and hand gloves on March 21, which she has been reusing since then.

“Except for the masks and gloves, we do not have any protective gown or goggles as of yet, despite the coronavirus threat going on full throttle,” the healthcare worker said.

Mahmuda remarked that working without proper protective gear is also forcing her to put her family at risk since she has to return home after work.

According to the Narayanganj Civil Surgeon's Office, there are 143 community clinics in 39 unions of the district where more than 200 field workers are working six days a week.

Locals wait in queue for service outside of Jangalia Community Clinic in Araihazar upazila, Narayanganj, not entirely maintaining the required social distance, which is at least one metre - or three feet - on all sides | Dhaka Tribune

Like Mahmuda, many of them were provided with only masks and gloves.

Many of them have been using masks and hand sanitizers bought on their own.

However, the district’s Civil Surgeon Dr Md Imtiaz Ahmed gave a different account on the PPEs.

“We have sent proper safety equipment to each community clinic. Even a week ago, three sets of PPEs were sent to each community clinic,” he said.

A somewhat similar story came from Rokib Miah, healthcare provider at Komlapur Community Clinic at Birulia union of Savar, who received a surgical mask and two sets of PPEs.

However, those were subpar in quality and are no longer usable he said, adding that the authorities concerned are now giving them cloth masks only.

Community clinics in Pabna, Habiganj, and Bandarban are running normally, but they are in dire need of PPEs.

Government measures on safety issue

According to the Community Based Health Care (CBHC) system, some 3,850 health workers are working in 3,812 community clinics across the country.

Sahadeb Chandra Rajbongshi, line director of CBHC, said: “Community healthcare providers are not directly treating any Covid-19 patients. In emergency cases, they refer patients to the upazila health complex. We are sending gloves and masks depending on the supply.”

“Five PPEs have been sent to every community clinic to tackle this health hazard. I do not know why they are not accessible yet,” he added.

They will start digital screening services soon and will determine suspected Covid-19 patients after talking to them about their symptoms over the phone, he said.

This, one assumes, will reduce the need for PPEs.

A community doctor hands medicine to a patient at Jangalia Community Clinic in Araihazar upazila, Narayanganj | Dhaka Tribune

CHCP to gather Covid-19 samples

Considering the current situation, the government has trained many CHCPs for countrywide sample collection after the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Director General Abul Kalam Azad disclosed their decision in this regard on April 10.

Healthcare workers, including from Narayanganj, Pabna, Habiganj, and Bandarban, said they were told that they would be collecting samples. However, they were supposedly not given further instructions on the matter and just received a one-day training on it.

Rajbongshi and Bandarban Civil Surgeon Dr Aung Swi Prue Marma was hopeful, saying that the training will help greatly in sample collection.

Our correspondents from Savar, Pabna, Habiganj, and Bandarban also contributed to this report

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