By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Bangladesh’s government plans to send imprisoned opposition leader Khaleda Zia to a public hospital in Dhaka on Tuesday for tests and possible treatment following reports that she suffered a mild stroke.
Officials from her Bangladesh Nationalist Party said the health of the 72-year-old BNP chairwoman and former prime minister had worsened because of an absence of proper medical care in prison and demanded that she be admitted to the private United Hospital.
“Khaleda’s physicians have informed us that she might have suffered a mild stroke. She needs better treatment. Previously, she was treated at United Hospital,” BNP standing committee member Mahbubur Rahman told BenarNews. “She has confidence in those physicians – what would be wrong if she was taken there?”
But Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the government would allow her to be treated at a public hospital. She could be treated properly at the government-run Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) hospital, and would be taken there if she agreed to it.
“Her blood sugar, blood pressure – everything is normal. She has been fasting during Ramadan and is used to sleeping until 1 p.m.,” Khan told BenarNews, adding that Syed Iftekhar Uddin, the inspector general of prisons who is also a physician, had visited Zia at his request.
“He told me that Khaleda is quite well,” Khan said. “Despite this, we want to ensure her health care at the best medical institution of the country, BSMMU. If she wants, we can transfer her tomorrow, but we will have nothing to do, if she disagrees with it.”
BSMMU is named after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the assassinated founding father of Bangladesh and father of Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister who is Zia’s bitter political foe.
BNP leaders accused the government of withholding the truth about Zia’s condition.
“The government itself will face an awkward position if anything happens to Khaleda Zia. So they should admit her to United Hospital as per her choice,” Rahman said.
On Monday, Iftekhar briefed reporters about Zia’s condition.
“She did not faint, but became slightly imbalanced. She was given appropriate treatment instantly,” Iftekhar said. “BSMMU is the best medical facility in Bangladesh. We could consider transferring her to a private hospital if there was anything lacking at the government institution.”
Zia has been imprisoned since Feb. 8 when she was sentenced to five years after being convicted of embezzling more than 21 million taka (U.S. $252,000) from the Zia Orphanage Trust, which she headed. The former three-time prime minister also faces other criminal charges as well.
Zia has accused the ruling Awami League party of lodging false allegations to keep her out of politics. The country’s next general election is to take place sometime in December.