ONLY 13 per cent villagers using masks in Bangladesh, as a study shows, comes with concern, especially amidst a surge in Covid cases and death in the past few weeks. The study that the United States-based Innovation for Poverty Action conducted on 600 villages finds that people’s tendency to wear masks, regarded as effective in containing the spread of Covid-19 and is prescribed by virologists, in villages is disparagingly low. There is also a growing reluctance among villagers, many of whom think that Covid-19 is a disease of cities and of the rich, at following health guidelines such as wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands with soaps. The study also shows that there has been a marked decline in adherence to the guidelines since June 2020 when the government relaxed the general holiday that it ordered on March 26 to contain the spread of Covid-19. The situation has remained so, as the study says, because of an underestimation of the spread of Covid-19 in rural areas, the absence of awareness among rural people and failures of government and non-governmental initiatives and oversight activities.
The use of mask was up to 42 per cent in early days of the Covid outbreak in Bangladesh. It was also high in areas where intervention such as free mask distribution and awareness campaign was made. The highest increase in mask use was, as the study shows, seen in mosques, registering a 38 percentage point increase, while the increase was roughly 25–29 percentage points on other locations. The figures suggest that adequate interventions in forms such as the free distribution of masks, text message reminders, public signs, monetary and non-monetary incentives, altruistic messaging and verbal commitments can help to achieve the goal of universal mask wearing. Wearing masks is important in a country such as Bangladesh where it is almost impossible for people both in urban and rural areas to maintain social distancing. Wearing masks, which is said to be reducing the chance of infection by up to 90 per cent, appears to be the best preventive measure. What should, however, be also attended to is the management of discarded masks, which have also come to be a cause of concern for the adverse impact on the environment. Environmentalists have already sounded warning about the growing presence of discarded personal protective equipment in water bodies.
The government must, therefore, look into both the issues in earnest. The government must ensure universal mask wearing in rural and urban areas to fight the spread of Covid-19. The government must run sustained awareness campaigns to make rural people aware of the necessity of wearing mask. The government must also take steps to recycle and dispose of discarded personal protective equipment in an environmentally-friendly way.
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