While the spread of coronavirus continues in Bangladesh, with news of fresh cases being released in the media regularly, government officials and experts involved in the initiatives against the contagion, have failed to provide any clear idea about the situation on ground, how many people are likely to be infected by the virus, how many ICU beds will be needed and other such details.
There is also a lack of coordination among the concerned bodies which has led to the violation of precautions directed by the government, including public gatherings.
The entire government machinery, albeit a bit late, has become involved in the fight against COVID-19. Government officials and experts feel that the main challenge at the moment is ensuring that the declared holiday is maintained, the suspected COVID-19 cases are quarantined and the various other measures are strictly enforced. The existing limitations and challenges must be addressed, they said.
The ongoing holiday was declared by the government in order to ensure people maintained distance from each other and avoided crowds and gatherings. The holiday which began on 26 March, has been extended up till 11 April. The government has also quarantined several areas in a number of districts of the country. The district and upazila administrations are enforcing this, with support from the police.
Along with the local government ministry and home ministry, at least 10 ministries are now active with the health ministry in the prevention and control of COVID-19.
On 31 March, prime minister Sheikh Hasina discussed the overall situation with officials of the field level administration through a video-conference. The conference was joined by divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners, officials of the public administration ministry, the cabinet division, the disaster management and relief ministry, the health ministry, the information ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The initiatives against the spread of coronavirus have also been taken up by the education ministry, religious affairs ministry, ICT ministry, finance ministry, foreign ministry and the ministry for civil aviation and tourism.
Director general of the health directorate Abul Kalam Azad, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “The prime minister’s statement during the videoconference as well as the persons participating in the conference, indicates that the entire government machinery is involved in the fight against COVID-19.”
There are apprehensions within the government about how long it will be possible to keep people isolated. A matter of economy is involved and the livelihood of the poor
Several committees have been formed to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. The health minister heads a national committee. There are committees at each district and upazila. A control room has been set up at the PMO.
The health directorate has an integrated control room for the coordination of all the tasks being carried out. The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) has a separate control room. The health directorate also has a health emergency control room.
On 11 March this year the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that coronavirus or COVID-19 was a pandemic. Starting in Wuhan, China, it has now spread through 200 countries of the world.
The government in Bangladesh has selected nine hospitals in Dhaka for the treatment of COVID-19. The scope for conducting the required tests has been increased, but it remains uncertain as to where this will all end.
Public health expert and member of the Bangladesh Medical Association executive council, Mushtaq Hossain, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that there is no room for complacence just because it seems there are less infected persons or less cases are being detected.
Many are stressing on the need to increase hospitals beds or ventilators, but the priority should be placed in social isolation, he said, adding that this was not being done effectively.
The government declared a holiday to ensure social distancing, but people thronged together at the railway stations, bus deports and ferry terminals to leave Dhaka. Over the last two days there has been increased vehicular movement in Dhaka city. Crowds have begun gathering in various market places around the country. People are also congregating to collect food and relief. Experts say all this hampers the initiatives to contain the contagion.
It is not only the behavioural aspect of the people. This also indicates a lack of coordination among the concerned government bodies.
Speaking to Prothom Alo in this regard, the prime minister’s personal physician and advisor to the national coordination committee for COVID-19, ABM Abdullah said, “Just because there are less patients at the moment, there is no scope for complacence. People must be conscious and behave properly. They cannot crowd. If the virus spreads, it will be difficult to bring things under control.”
There are other instances of a lack of coordination. There are questions about the quality of personal protective equipment (PPE) being provided to the physicians, nurses and other health workers. Corruption has even been reported in the supply of masks to government hospitals. Then again, there are allegations of general patients being turned away from physician’s chambers and hospitals without treatment.
IEDCR director Meerjady Sabrina has told Prothom Alo, “Coordination is the biggest challenge. We are facing this challenge every day. Coordination needs to be stepped up.”
The other challenges include the capacity of the health sector, infrastructure and human resources. Health directorate DG Abul Kalam Azad said, “Ever since the first case was detected on 8 March, there has been a visible increase in all sorts of capacity. Our preparation, monitoring and activities will continue till the end.”
However, there are apprehensions within the government about how long it will be possible to keep people isolated. A matter of economy is involved and the livelihood of the poor.
Abul Kalam Azad said, “These are the side-effects of COVID-19. But the government is taking initiative to address these problems. The entire government is working in close unison on the COVID-19.”-Prothom Alo