THERE are two types of information related to new coronavirus infection and death cases that people are getting from the electronic and the print media. One is given by the health services directorate general through its representative who appears every day to give an account of the COVID-19 situation that changed in 24 hours till that morning and updates on the whole situation of the disease. As of May 12, this official report gives a total figure of 16,660 infected cases with a total of 250 death.
The official report is based on coronavirus tests done by the government in places decided by the government all over the country. The statistics may be accurate as far as the testing is concerned. Beyond this official report, people get information from other reports made newspapers that include death cases with symptoms of COVID-19.
There are a lot of cases in which victims are not tested and not treated in hospital nor are they kept in isolation. These people remain outside the domain of the health system. A major portion of them survives while some dies of the disease. In a country like ours, where a vast majority of people are poor and illiterate, they live in remote villages having little access to the testing system and where a large number of people still rely on traditional alternative treatment, there exist a number of factors that allow people to remain outside the modern treatment facility. This is the reason all coronavirus infection and death cases do not come under the purview of the official report.
These non-reported cases may be divided into two categories. One of them includes people who get infected with the virus, carry the symptoms of the disease, but ultimately recover from it over time. They are suspects who, if tested, would test positive for coronavirus. The other category includes cases, though not reported officially, victims who die with clear symptoms of the disease. The first category cases are missing from both official and unofficial reports. But the second category, as deaths are incidents that cannot be overlooked by conventional reporting system, are covered by local newspapers or social media postings and are ultimately recorded by private television channels and national print media. This statistics of deaths with symptoms of coronavirus infection can be relied on after a thorough research.
We have come across a research finding published recently by the Bangladesh Peace Observatory, a UNDP-funded research facility, which says that the total number of cases in which victims having COVID-19-like symptoms died until May 12, as reported by newspapers, are 929, making a big difference with the official report of 250 death cases during the same period. Thus, the death of suspected cases with COVID-19-like symptoms as coming out of the research finding is 3.71 times higher than the officially reported ones. If this finding is taken as a basis for drawing an inference to arrive at the total number of reported and unreported COVID-19 infection cases together, the figure comes up to about 60,000.
We can check this finding by comparing Bangladesh’s statistics with Malaysia’s. Malaysia has ample health facilities and as such it would leave fewer cases outside the periphery of testing system. It is within a geographic region that has similar temperature like Bangladesh. In the case with Malaysia, the figures of infected cases and deaths until May 12 are 6,742 and 109. The population of Bangladesh and Malaysia stand at 161.4 and 32.37 million. If the research finding of the BPO with 929 deaths are taken as a basis to calculate the total infected cases that may stand about 60,000, the figure becomes a bit bigger in ratio in comparison with that of Malaysia. But in no way, the official figure of 16,660 with 250 deaths until 12 May look convincing. The authorities concerned should come up with a mechanism to extend the testing facility to all 64 districts so that the official report on the coronavirus outbreak could come closer to real situation.
Gazi Mizanur Rahman, a former civil servant, is a writer.
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