A dearth of ICU (intensive care unit) beds at public hospitals has prompted critical Covid-19 patients to move to private hospitals.
But such private healthcare centres are reported to overcharge patients in the absence of any price cap by the regulator.
A lack of affordable ICU beds, in some cases, has left many gasp for breath at public hospitals in and outside Dhaka.
And the result was obvious: so many critical patients are ending up their fight and embracing death.
As the demand for ICU beds surges following a spike in Covid-19, some private hospitals have significantly increased the number of beds, including ICUs.
The FE caught up with the situation after visiting some public hospitals and their private peers in Dhaka city.
There are 829 ICU beds dedicated to coronavirus-infected persons countrywide, but only 280 are managed by the government.
The remaining 549 ICUs are under private operation.
ICU-based critical treatment costs charged by private hospitals here are between Tk 40,000 and Tk 100,000 daily, which is 'too much' according to officials and health experts.
Recently, one Rashed Hossain had his uncle and two other family members admitted to Anwar Khan Modern Medical College Hospital.
"We managed a seat using high-profile reference as there was huge demand for ICU beds. My uncle (68) couldn't survive despite uninterrupted 15 days' ICU support as 80 per cent of his lung got infected."
Two other members-his aunty and a cousin-were also admitted with Covid-19. They, however, survived and did not require ICU support.
"We had to pay over Tk 1.2 million as medical service bill for the three only while over Tk 40,000 was required daily as his ICU bed bill."
"It's quite a big budget for a middle-income family in Bangladesh and we had to drag on our savings to pay the bill…"
Hossain Khan, a private service holder in Dhaka, shared the same experience with the FE.
"Wives of my two brothers caught Covid-19 concurrently and they required urgent oxygen support. We communicated hospitals, used reference and posted on social media seeking ICU beds. Two days later, we managed seats at a hospital in Dhaka."
"The patients finally didn't need ICU support. However, general beds for Covid-19 parents require Tk 20,000 as seat rent per day. Medicines are quite costly as we've already spent about Tk 500,000 for their treatment," he cited.
Dr Ali Abrar, assistant director at Bangladesh Specialised Hospital in Dhaka, said a growing number of patients require oxygen support and ICU beds due to increased infections and the new Covid-19 variant.
Government facilities aside, he said, private ones are working to deliver oxygen and ICU support, but those are still insufficient to meet the mounting demand.
On allegations of improper ICU facility and healthcare business, Dr Abrar said: "A paltry number of private hospitals are extending ICU support to patients. These are immoral and isolated incidents."
He suggested that the government monitor these cases regularly.
Dr Abrar, however, disagreed that private hospitals overcharge during the pandemic.
"We charge patients as directed by the government. We have service charts and the cost for oxygen, high-flow nasal cannula and ICU beds as per the government-fixed charges," he claimed.
He believes the existing oxygen supply is not hampering treatment at hospitals. "If local producers and importers continue supply support, we won't face any big challenge in the coming days."
When contacted, DGHS director (hospital and clinics) Dr Farid Hossain Miah said they have been receiving complaints of exorbitant charges by private healthcare facilities for ICUs.
The authorities made a move to set a price cap for ICUs to bring discipline in this untouched area.
But it was too complicated to fix a rate as the rate will have to be different for small, medium and large hospitals, explained Mr Miah.
"So, we can't fix it. But it needs to be fully regulated and I think it takes time," he said on a frustrating note.
Seeking anonymity, a DGHS official said pressure from the private peers forced the state-owned directorate to skip the idea of fixing a price cap.
Bangladesh Medical Association secretary general Dr Md Ehteshamul Huq Choudhury said private hospitals should have behaved humanely, especially in this trying time.
"But unfortunately, we're observing otherwise," he bemoaned.
Dr Chowdhury was critical of the DGHS's failure to properly regulate private healthcare facilities.
"The DGHS must set up prices for medical tests and ICUs as these are badly hurting people," he observed.