A hospital owner in Bangladesh was arrested Wednesday on charges of fraud, after allegedly issuing thousands of fake Covid-19 test results to deceive patients out of an estimated $350,000, in a wide-ranging scam that has shaken confidence in the country’s medical establishment.
Authorities in Bangladesh say Mohammad Shahed, 43, who had evaded authorities for nine days, was caught trying to cross a river into neighboring India while wearing a burqa.
Shahed is accused of providing patients with fake negative test results for the novel coronavirus, said Col. Ashique Billah, a spokesman for the country’s Rapid Action Battalion, an elite security force.
Shahed is also accused of charging people for virus treatments and documents certifying they did not contract the coronavirus after agreeing with the government that he would provide those services free of charge.
Billah said that two medical facilities owned by Shahed conducted some 4,000 genuine coronavirus tests, but faked the results of another 6,500.
A court Thursday granted police the opportunity to keep Shahed in custody for 10 days for questioning. CNN is attempting to locate a lawyer who represents Shahed for comment.
Shahed is not the first person in Bangladesh arrested on charges of committing medical fraud during the pandemic. Last week, owners of a different private testing facility were arrested for providing fake Covid-19 test certificates without actually testing people, authorities said.
Experts are concerned that these scams could discourage people from getting tested in Bangladesh, which is already facing limited testing capacity. Since March, the government has tested an average of between 13,000 to 17,000 people per day, a comparatively small number for a country with a population of more than 168 million people.
Those seeking tests have faced frustrating delays, with many forced to wait in long lines, sometimes overnight. The new scandal could affect public confidence in testing, and further dissuade people from getting tested altogether.
More than 193,500 people in Bangladesh have contracted the virus, 2,457 of whom have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But many are concerned that the true number could be much higher owing to Bangladesh’s limited testing capacity.
Critics have lashed out at the government for not doing more to protect vulnerable populations, especially in densely populated areas like the capital of Dhaka or along the Ganges River Delta.
Bangladesh went into lockdown for 68 days but reopened in a “limited scale” on June 1 to help jumpstart the economy, despite the fact that public health authorities are still identifying thousands of new cases each day.
Schools remain closed but businesses and government offices have opened.
South Asia is one of the world’s current coronavirus hotspots. India is expected to hit 1 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 within days, while Pakistan has recorded more than 255,000 infections.
“Covid-19 is spreading at an alarming rate in South Asia, home to a quarter of humanity,” John Fleming, who heads the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) health unit for Asia-Pacific, said in a statement Thursday.
“We now need to urgently turn our attention to this region, urgently step up prevention measures and expand our resources to save thousands of lives,” Fleming said.
The pandemic has been particularly devastating to Bangladesh’s economy. Though the country’s service and technology sectors have grown in recent years, garment production is still the country’s economic backbone, raking in an estimated $30 billion a year.
International apparel brands and retailers that rely on the cheap labor that Bangladesh provides have canceled or suspended an estimated $3.17 billion worth of orders in the country, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association told CNN in April.
Factories in the country had furloughed or laid off more than half of the country’s nearly 4.1 million garment workers by April, the association said at the time.