The law enforcement agencies in the country may not have a clean image yet but the 999 emergency call has been going from strength to strength so far as its acceptability among the people is concerned. Prompt responses to such calls seeking intervention in crises have started lifting the image of law enforcers. So far no report of the services' abuse is available.
In a number of cases, rather, a call on the hotline has worked wonder. One such incident involving a hospital bill has opened up the prospect of the service's use in multi-dimensional ways. Look, how a poor rickshaw-puller had his presence of mind to call the No. 999 in dire straits. He had his pregnant wife admitted to a private hospital in Uttara the day before and the woman gave birth to a daughter. It was a normal delivery but when the bill came to Tk 18,000, the rickshaw-puller naturally found the charge for just a day's stay unacceptable.
He refused to pay the outrageous bill. But the hospital management won't release his wife and baby unless he paid the money charged in the bill. What could the man do in such a situation? Most people would have been out of their wit's end but this man thought it was unreasonable and could be redressed by a call for the all-purpose solution.
Wonder of wonders, he was not disappointed. Uttara Thana (east) responded to his call -- and responded rather promptly. A team of the police went to the hospital and requested the management of the hospital to accept the bare minimum charge from the rickshaw-puller, considering his financial capability. The hospital authority slashed the bill to just Tk 3,500 which the distraught-turned-happy man paid and had his wife and baby released from the hospital.
The happy ending of this story points to a number of irritants and a most positive role played by the police. In a sprawling city where posh areas like Uttara and Gulshan have seen their development with a focus on services for the privileged and moneyed class, the poor and slum-dwellers around do not have many public facilities to avail of. In absence of government hospitals, the underprivileged people are deprived of some basic healthcare. Had there been a government hospital nearby, the poor rickshaw-puller would not have to venture into the cut-throat private hospital.
Then, medical services in private hospitals are outrageously high in this country, only more so in the capital and other cities. To what length such facilities can go was best highlighted by a highly reputed hospital in Gulshan when it allegedly refused to release a patient's body without payment of a small portion of a fat bill. Also, this hospital reportedly prepared an inflated bill by keeping in the ICU a body of a patient who expired days before. Such scandalous incidents speak volumes for the irregularities and outrageous charges demanded for services.
No one think of arbitration by the law enforcement agency on an emergency call like that of the rickshaw-pullers nor is there any possibility of such mediation working. If the government's high-ups interfere, such issues can be amicably settled. So far as the moneyed people are concerned, they hardly bother how much is charged but it is the classes below them which find themselves in a soup once they are compelled to seek treatment in such expensive facilities.
Disparities in society are so brazen that those are incurable by anything like a one-off interference that has been successful in the Uttara hospital case. Even the 999 emergency call does not stand a chance in several such contentious cases. It is the system that has to be developed in order to serve every citizen irrespective of social and economic standing. Universal health insurance can be an answer to the problem. The country should gradually go for introduction of such a policy giving priority for healthcare of the poor before others. It has to be a bottom-up, rather than a top-down, scheme. Before universal coverage of health insurance, it is the poor whose healthcare should be taken care of.