Govt urged to extended shutdown by two more weeks
Drawing attention to poor management of the recently concluded lockdown, experts, leading officials, and activists involved in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic say lifting the lockdown would further raise health risks.
The comments were made by speakers at a webinar titled “Virtual Dialogue on Post-Lockdown Health Risk,” organized by Citizen's Platform for SDGs on Monday morning.
A lack of coordination between governing bodies, struggling health care services, especially in rural areas, and a failure to engage people in the country, were some of the things that reduced effectiveness of the lockdown, they said.
Civil society recommended improvements in the coordination between ministries, city corporations, the local administration and other stakeholders, the introduction of anti-dot tests, strengthening national task forces, and looking into local technological innovations for needed medical equipment.
They also suggested the government consider extending the lockdown another two weeks, and that the lockdown be lifted gradually and only in zones where transmission of the novel coronavirus had successfully been curbed.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, convenor of the platform and distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), delivered the welcome speech. Dr Khairul Islam, regional director of South Asia for WaterAid, moderated the discussion.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya in his opening speech expressed anxiety about relaxing the lockdown when the number of patients infected with Covid-19 was still rising at an alarming rate.
Dr Kamrul Azad, a clinician of Barguna General Hospital, said they have tested 33 garment workers who had returned from Dhaka. Of them, 11 (33.33%) were found to be coronavirus positive. In other professions, about one in 12 were infected with Covid-19.
“These are people brought in by law enforcement, but many others have already gone to their homes in remote areas. The real scenario will be revealed in 14-28 days, as we have already allowed the virus to spread to remote locations,” he added.
He also stressed the need for rapid test kits, as the wait for test results was delaying treatment for patients.
“With experience, it has become easier for health professionals to identify patients who are Covid-19 positive even before the test results arrive,” he said.
The clinician said ensuring oxygen supply and related equipment at treatment centres would help save many lives.
“If transmission continues at the present rate, many patients in remote areas will die before they can reach divisional health facilities,” he added.
Earlier, Dr Rowshan Ara Begum, member of National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on COVID-19, said the technical committee emphasized the oxygen supply issue and made a strong recommendation for it almost as soon as the committee had been formed.
Dr Rowshan, also former president of the Obstetrical and Gynecology Society of Bangladesh, added that many infants born during the pandemic were being deprived of health services. She cited a Unicef projection that an estimated 2.4m babies would be born during the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
“The number of caesarean sections has decreased during the pandemic, but no one is talking about this. More women are giving birth at home, and the maternal mortality rate has increased for this reason,” she added.
Meanwhile, icddr,b Senior Scientist Dr Firdausi Qadri said relying on herd immunity would be deadly for the country, since little is known about antibodies and T-cells needed to fight the virus hardly five months after its discovery.
Executive Director of Dustha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), Dr Dibalok Singha, said an outbreak of Covid-19 among the poor in urban slums would spell disaster.
Chief Executive of DevResonance Ltd, Nazme Sabina, said: “The urban poor do not have the space in their homes necessary for isolation or quarantine. The capacity for isolation needs to be increased.”
Dr Mushtaque Chowdhury, a member of the Core Group of Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, emphasized the need to increase the number of tests and to form a specific scientific group that would advise the government on scientific matters.
Speakers at the discussion also focused on conducting research to understand the nature and characteristics of Covid-19.
Dr Firdausi Qadri said research on the immunological response of Covid-19 infected persons and epidemiological factors surrounding infection are needed.
Dr AJM Faisel, former president of the Public Health Association of Bangladesh and member (Sylhet Division) of the eight member Public health expert team formed on March 28, said analysis is needed to understand why coronavirus infected people are dying, as many of them are dying from issues such as electrolyte imbalance or cardiac problems.
More data on infected persons, their professions and households, is needed, the doctor added.
He said although IEDCR has been asked to do the work, the study could be conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics or other organizations that are yet to do any work on the pandemic.
MP Aroma Dutta said the government needs to work on how they would coordinate between government bodies, increase testing facilities, and strengthen community health care swiftly.