Rumi Ahmed Khan MD FCCP, Director, Pulmonary Critical Care Fellowship Program, Director Cardiopulmonary Exercise and Lung Physiology Lab, Orlando Health, Associate Professor, UCF College of Medicine; Malay Kanti Mridha, Professor of Public Health, Director, Center for Non- Communicable Diseases and Nutrition. BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health; Rajiv Chowdhury, Principal Researcher/Associate Professor in Global Health, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge,UK; Dipak Kumar Mitra, Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Health, School of Health and Life Sciences, North South University; Enayetur Raheem, PhD, Senior Data Scientist at Cigna, USA, Scientist and Head of Research, Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF), Bangladesh participated in the webinar which was moderated by Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan
Experts have said that lack of accessible data in Bangladesh has made it difficult to map out Bangladesh-specific models which could predict potential Covid-19 spread and mortality rate.
They shared the opinion at a webinar titled Tribune Talks organized by Dhaka Tribune on Friday.
The experts said Bangladesh can seek inspiration from the models other hard-hit countries are following.
They said localized data would help map out models to make predictions more effectively and help the authorities to strategize to flatten the Covid-19 curve.
"Experts need to have access to data to make any prediction or design any model. We are not getting enough data and for this reason it is difficult for us to predict how many lives Covid-19 is going to claim in Bangladesh," said Malay Kanti Mridha, director of Centre of Excellence for Non-Communicable Diseases and Nutrition at Brac James P Grant School of Public Health.
He said the government is releasing district-specific Covid-19 situation data and some works could be done based on the data.
"I cannot predict what the mortality rate would be in the coming days in Bangladesh but a forecast can be done based on the number of deaths caused by the virus."
He said any Bangladesh-specific prescriptive modelling could help reduce the reproduction number to less than one.
While moderating the webinar, Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan said the authorities are very sensitive about this issue and "they are telling us not to publish anything speculative."
Echoing Sobhan, Enayetur Raheem, senior data scientist at the USA-based global health service company Cigna, said: "We cannot do modelling because the government is sensitive.
"I speculate using the data...I am not getting the data I used to get from official and unofficial sources from Bangladesh and therefore, I could not make a model based on most recent data from Bangladesh."
Pointing to the importance of forecasts based on country-specific data, he said: "Everyone was happy seeing the Singapore model which predicts the curve will fall flat in May. Now we all can see where we stand."
'Lockdown alone cannot flatten Covid-19 curve'
The discussants also shed light on the fact that lockdown alone cannot do much to flatten the curve of coronavirus transmission if other preventive measures are not being followed.
Rumi Ahmed Khan, associate professor of UCF College of Medicine in USA, pointed out that lockdown cannot work effectively to control Covid-19 transmission if the authorities do not work on other measures like ramping up testing capacity, enhancing the healthcare system, and making good policies.
"Lockdown is one piece of a puzzle. It can work effectively if other pieces of the puzzle are in place. If we keep pushing the lockdown, we will only delay the surge. We would not really make anything tangible to make the curve flat," he said.
Sobhan questioned: "If you look at the trajectory in countries like the United States, Italy, and Spain, by this time we should have many more cases than we have here in Bangladesh...Does that mean things will be different in Bangladesh or it will happen in future?"
"We are seeing exponential growth in case detection. On March 15, the case number was five, on April 15 case numbers crossed 1,200, and on May 15 the case numbers crossed 20,000. We do not know what the case number would be on June 15," Rumi said.
Referring to the UK's Imperial College forecast, Prof Dipak Kumar Mitra, chairman of the Department of Public Health at North South University, said they collected data from China in their model and then applied it to predict Covid-19 scenarios in western countries.
He said reporting on overall Covid-19 deaths, cases and recoveries could make a difference in Bangladesh.
"USA predicted there would be 100,000 deaths and they already crossed the threshold," he said, adding that he doubts the reported numbers in Bangladesh are accurate.