In 1995, my father was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor by top neurologists in the country. He experienced a persistent burning sensation in his head and horribly bloodshot eyes. When doctors claimed he didn’t have much longer to live, my father, then in his late 30s, was broken. He couldn’t fathom leaving behind his family at such a young age. Since MRI machines were not available in Bangladesh at that time, my father was advised to go to India to confirm the diagnosis. We traveled to Kolkata, where after an initial physical examination, the neurologist declared with 99% certainty that my father did not have a brain tumor. Believing the symptoms were indicative of an eye infection instead, the doctor referred my father to an ophthalmologist. The doctor still insisted on an MRI scan to rule out a tumor and give us much needed peace of mind. As it turns out, the doctor’s diagnosis was correct; my father did indeed have an eye infection, and the MRI scans showed no trace of any tumor. My father took the prescribed eye drops for the next couple of months, and 22 years later has not suffered any of his earlier symptoms.
My father’s ordeal is one of many that our family alone has experienced. Earlier in 2009, I was hospitalized for an extended period of time with excruciating abdominal pain at some of the best hospitals in Dhaka. Numerous lab and imaging tests were performed on me. A medical board comprised of a group of doctors was set up, and I was given 22 injections a day – all without any concrete diagnosis. Eventually, after visiting a hospital in Delhi, I was diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
Needless to say, healthcare and I have a long and often tempestuous relationship. While we have some exceptionally talented doctors and surgeons in this country, they are mostly overshadowed by their not-so-great counterparts.
Still, one must acknowledge the advances Bangladesh has made in healthcare. Despite being plagued by poverty and political turmoil, since 1980, the country’s maternal mortality rate has dropped by 75%. The infant mortality rate has dropped by 50% since 1990, and life expectancy rose to 68.3 years, which is higher than that of neighbors India and Pakistan. Currently, there are 64,434 registered doctors, 6,034 dentists, 30,516 nurses, and 27,000 nurse midwives inBangladesh. As of 2013,64% of these registered doctors are working in the private sector. Numerous health facilities have opened in recent years to cater to this increased demand for care. As of 2015, the total number of hospitals in the country was 1683, of which 678 were government hospitals.
Despite growth in certain areas, much work remains to be done within the healthcare sector. The troubling reality is that the public health facilities are marred with low quality treatment, inefficiency, and poor management. While the private health facilities are better equipped with the latest medical machinery, they are expensive and often provide substandard service. Given the lack of quality and affordable health services, people from all social backgrounds have no choice but to seek treatment from private health facilities, which often creates a huge financial burden. The more affluent opt to fly to neighboring countries for care. In fact, data from the Indian government revealed that in 2015 alone, 1,34,344 medical visas were issued from Bangladesh, while 97,000 were issued in just the first six months of 2016. These staggering numbers do not account for patients who visit India for medical purposes with tourist visas.
One of the things that always catches my attention upon entering a health facility in Bangladesh is the disregard for a patient’s feelings. It saddens me to say that I seldom witness hospital staff exhibiting any form of empathy, or even a genuine smile. It’s an established fact thatempathy allows patients to build trust with their providers and experience better rates of recovery. At Praava, we take empathy and hospitality very seriously. All of our staff, including our family doctors and top management, are going through rigorous hospitality training. We will require doctors to spend more time with their patients to comprehend their reality. I am proud to take the lead in service excellence to ensure that patients coming into our clinics are treated with kindness, empathy, and respect. Overall, we want our patients to have a seamless experience at our facility from the minute they enter till the time they leave. Healthcare is not just about getting treated for an illness–it’s a very personal affair that needs to be dealt with delicately, which is exactly how we envision treating our patients.
Prior to joining Praava, I worked for two national newspapers, local and international magazines, and the BBC Media Action. A trained electronics and telecommunication engineer, I was drawn to writing and journalism because it allowed me to voice opinions, raise awareness, and create impact. When I met Ms. Sylvana (CEO of Praava Health) in early 2016, I was intrigued and inspired by her mission to revolutionize healthcare in Bangladesh, which resonated with my own desire to see significant change in the current system. It wasn’t an easy decision to quit an eight-year writing career to jump into a new role, but as I was striving to create impact with my written words, I knew I could create impact in healthcare with Praava. For the last year, I have worked towards delivering a better healthcare experience for the people of this country, and believe our work will speak for itself once we open our doors.