Effectively fighting COVID-19 threat

by Amir Mohammad Sayem | Published: 00:00, Apr 05,2020


The aerial picture shows deserted roads during a shutdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 outbreak in Dhaka on March 28. — Agence France-Presse/Munir Uz Zaman

NOVEL coronavirus is a global threat for now. There have already been 70 infected cases in Bangladesh and by this time, eight have died and 30 cases have been closed. But more people are at a risk of getting infected as most of about 600,000 people who have recently returned to Bangladesh could not be effectively quarantined. Many of them have returned from countries where the new coronavirus infection already broke out.

Some works by experts suggest that high temperature, sunlight and humidity can slow down and weaken the novel coronavirus spread. But they are still not too strong to rely on. Research is scanty and it is too early to conclusively say anything. Some experts, therefore, brush aside such conclusions and say that weather changes may not reduce the infection and death rate. Yet the usual seasonal pattern of the new coronavirus outbreak mainly in places exposed to cool and dry weather is indicative of such possible relations and Bangladesh, with relatively higher temperature and sunlight, can, perhaps, be less affected.

But the matter of concern is that the number of infected people is increasing, slowly though. More importantly, community transmission on a limited scale is feared by the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research to have happened. Until now, a few cases have been detected where the infected neither came from abroad nor the family had any members returning from abroad, which suggests that community transmission may have taken place. Consequently, the possibility of a major outbreak through community transmission may not be brushed aside even though such a transmission is now on a limited scale and the number of infected cases is still low compared with that in many other countries.

What is worrying is that all who have recently come from countries affected by the novel coronavirus have not yet been tested. So far, about 2,547 individuals have been tested and nearly 2.75 per cent of them have been found infected. But a large number of suspected cases have remained untested. Unless all suspected cases are tested, it is hard to understand the exact situation of the infection and to say that the virus has spread on a limited scale, with the figure still remaining low.

The government has already set up a national COVID-19 response committee, headed by the health minister, and has taken various steps, which are mostly primary preventive measures such as restrictions on air and land travel, awareness measures, quarantine of the people who have returned to the country and other suspected cases, promotion of self-isolation and social distancing, lockdown of some areas and the deployment of the law enforcement agencies and the army to ensure social distancing. These are very effective steps to limit mass transmission and tackle a possible major outbreak. Whether the current steps with an inadequate focus on secondary and tertiary measures can make Bangladesh capable of successfully fighting against the new virus remains a question.

Secondary and tertiary preventive mechanisms which require diagnosis and treatment are, to say the very least, scanty. There are inadequacies — almost centralised treatment facilities and inadequate personal protective equipment for health service providers. Further worrying is that hospitals supposed to provide treatment for COVID-19 patients are showing unwillingness. Given the dire situation of secondary and tertiary steps, any major outbreak could lead to a disaster.

Along with the current emphasis on primary preventive efforts, a strong emphasis must be given on both secondary and tertiary preventive and curative approaches. Test kits need to be made available at the earliest in different parts of the country and all suspected cases need to be immediately tested. Besides, all identified and suspected cases must be given treatment. The current national arrangement for testing and treatment must be extended and more hospitals have to be readied to treat identified cases.

A special attention also need to be given to the prevention and protection of vulnerable groups or individuals such as the elderly and the disadvantaged, including day-labourers, who have a higher risk of getting infected. The elderly are more susceptible because of their low immunity to fight the disease and may, therefore, need more intensive care-based treatment which would require an increased number of ventilators. Some disadvantaged groups are also especially vulnerable and can cause mass transmission as they go outside to earn their daily bread. Giving the required supports to the disadvantaged at this crucial time may reduce not only their sufferings but also their chance of getting infected and infecting others.

A whole-hearted commitment of the government is very important to fight the threat of COVID-19. Unfortunately, there appeared a lack of commitment in the beginning. Many responsible and highly-placed government officials tried to undermine the threat. It is good that the government is now more serious. The government must realise that some countries with better healthcare systems and financial condition find the fight against COVID-19 challenging and are counting heavy fatalities every day. Any indifference on part of the government can make the situation devastating.

In addition to the government, non-governmental and private organisations, individual philanthropists, volunteers and ordinary people are increasingly playing their role, which is laudable and needed for the prevention of any outbreak. But it is impossible for the government alone to fight the threat without the required cooperation from all.


Amir Mohammad Sayem writes opinion pieces on social issues, politics, environmental issues, international relations and current affairs.

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