A new International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh study has found that families with low socioeconomic status, particularly women, experienced financial hardship, food insecurity, domestic violence and mental health challenges during the COVID-19 stay-at-home (lockdown) measures in Bangladesh.
Scientists at Icddr,b and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia, have documented the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated stay-at-home measures on the wellbeing of women and their families in rural Bangladesh.
The study, published by The Lancet on Wednesday, found that low socioeconomic families experienced a range of economic and mental health challenges during the two-month stay-at-home order, and women reported an increase in intimate partner violence.
Like many countries around the world, Bangladesh used stay-at-home (or lockdown) orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during late March to May.
Using an existing research network in Bangladesh, the study team was able to track the impact of the lockdown on financial stability, food security, mental health and domestic violence in 2,424 families in Rupganj, Bhulta and Golakandail unions of Rupganj upazila under Narayanganj.
The study revealed that 96 per cent of families had experienced a reduction in their average monthly earnings and 91 per cent considered themselves to be financially unstable.
During the lockdown, 47 per cent of families saw their earnings drop below the international poverty line of 160 taka (US$1.90) per person per day and 70 per cent experienced food insecurity, with 15 per cent running out of food, going hungry or missing meals.
The lockdown also had mental health impacts, with women showing an increase in depressive symptoms, and 68 per cent of participants reporting their anxiety level had increased.
Among the women who reported emotional, physical or sexual violence from their intimate partners, more than half reported that violence had increased since lockdown, the study said.
Dr Jena Derakhshani Hamadani, emeritus scientist at Maternal and Child Health Division at Icddr,b and also the principal investigator of the study said, ‘The aim of the study was to determine the immediate impact of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders on women and their families in rural Bangladesh. The findings will not only help the decision makers of Bangladesh but other developing countries of the world to take successful pro-poor and pro-women measures.’
The report said that there was a marked increase in severe food insecurity in our population showing the impact of economic pressure on food access. It also said that the pandemic could have a catastrophic effect on food security and consequently on nutrition worldwide, she added.
About the impact of the lockdown, Dr Sant-Rayn Pasricha, associate professor at WEHI, who is also a co-author of the article published in the Lancet Global Health said, ‘Comparing how families were faring before and during lockdown, we could determine the impact lockdown had on them. What we observed were substantial financial and mental health pressures during lockdown.’
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