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Coronavirus: Ambulance drivers put trust in fate instead of protective gear

Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Around 15,000 ambulance drivers and assistants are risking their lives to transport patients in the pandemic

Just two days ago, a patient claiming to have been suffering from pneumonia went to 11 hospitals.

After being refused treatment at every hospital since the symptoms were similar to coronavirus, the patient died on Saturday.

For two straight days, ambulance driver Md Redowan took the patient to those hospitals, knowing the risk of being infected by the virus.

But he seemed to be very unaware of the virus and showed no concern, did not even wear a mask or hand gloves to protect himself.

“We have to die someday. What is the point of thinking about it? I have no fear of death as we always work with patients every day,” he said.

Like Redowan, other ambulance drivers and their assistants seemed very unaware of the looming danger while talking to this correspondent in front of a hospital in Dhanmondi. Most of them were not very well educated.

But one Md Zakaria seemed to be very stressed about patient symptoms nowadays amid the coronavirus outbreak.

He took a patient to Kurmitola General Hospital a few days ago who later tested positive. According to Zakaria, he came to know this after calling the family of the patient later.

On carrying patients without protective equipment, he said: “I am now relying on only Allah to not get infected with the virus.”

Nowadays Zakaria has started asking patients about their symptoms before letting them board his ambulance.

He said: “If I have any doubt [about the patient being infected with coronavirus], I ask the patient’s family to help the patient get in and out of my ambulance on their own.”

Dhaka Mohanagar Ambulance Malik Somobay Samity Ltd looks after the wellbeing of the ambulance drivers and assistants.

It is also a stakeholder in the National Emergency Service, 999, run by the police, through which people seek ambulance service from them.

According to the organization, around 7,500 private ambulances across the country are registered by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). Of them, 2080 ambulances and 1037 owners are members of the organization.

So, around 15,000 thousand people – Including one driver and an assistant for each ambulance – are in close contact with patients, making them vulnerable to Coronavirus infection.

Apart from the privately-run ambulance services, the country also has nearly 1,000 ambulances at different public hospitals.

Dhaka Mohanagar Ambulance Malik Somobay Samity Ltd President, Alamgir Hossain, told Dhaka Tribune: “If drivers get infected, they might stop driving ambulances without any prior notice. In that case, we are afraid that the ambulance service will totally shut down.”

Considering the risks drivers and assistants are facing, on March 22 the organization applied to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) for Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), hand sanitizers, and relevant training for drivers and their assistants to tackle the situation.

“They told us that they would provide PPEs to the hospitals first. They will only distribute among the drivers if they have any extra left,” said Alamgir, adding: “I found them not much interested in providing PPEs to ambulance drivers.”

He also said it does not matter if they are given one time PPEs or the ones which can be used several times after washing.

“We have never received any social recognition. From the Rana Plaza incident to every other crisis, we have fulfilled our duties, but got nothing,” he said, expressing his frustration.

However, Dr Muhammad Yunus gave over 250 PPEs out of the promised 2000 PPEs, to the organization for ambulance drivers from Grameen Fashion and Fabrics Ltd. (GFFL), on Monday.

“We have sent those to a few drivers on Monday night, who live across Dhaka,” said Alamgir.

Dr Supriya Sarkar, deputy program manager of Hospital Services Management at DGHS said: “We have asked the local civil surgeon to provide PPEs to all (including drivers and assistants) who are dealing with Covid-19 patients and suspected ones.”

He said they currently do not have any plan to provide PPEs to private ambulance drivers and assistants.

As of now, 54 people have been infected across the country and six people have died from the deadly coronavirus , which has claimed 42,344 lives worldwide, infecting 178,441 people, according to Worldometer.

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